Luke 17:11-17 ESV
“On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.””
Are you ready for Christmas? I’m not saying it has to start tomorrow, because some of you are already rolling your eyes at those folks who are playing Christmas music. But it won’t come fast enough for me for several reasons, one of them being that my birthday is on Christmas. For most folks, they get the joy of having a birthday party and opening presents, and then they get to do it all over again at Christmas time. I have to wait ALL YEAR for the birthday part and then it gets lumped in with Christmas. But its ok, because I get double on that day, so when the rest of you are done opening gifts, I’m still going!
Now that I’m an adult, its not really about presents or opening things. It’s about what comes from spending time with my family, eating a meal at a restaurant that I get to pick, and usually a place we’ve been saving up to go to. Its about the joy of togetherness, of fellowship and sharing a certain spirit.
When I was a kid, Christmas was a big deal. The older members of the family would make all the calls and get together an obscene number of people. The basement or living room of the lucky person who got to host that year would be wall to wall. There were kids everywhere and the energy was electric.
But thinking back on it, it was almost like it was more about the older members than the children. There were a lot of grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, who would sit back and take it all in. They were watching us. And the highlight of our time together was when their gift was about to be opened by one of the children.
The child would grab the gift with excitement, tear into the paper, open it up, show it to the world and then run off to play with it in a far away corner. That’s when the parents would stop the child, call them back, and say, “Go hug her neck. Tell her thank you.” That was the common way to say it in our family.
It was amazing to watch the person’s face who’s neck was being hugged. The child would throw their arms around the persons neck and squeeze, while the older folk would close their eyes together and smile during the embrace.
For the parents, it was always an opportunity to teach the children about gratitude. The gift was great, but the giver was the source of the gift. To show love and appreciation toward the giver was the proper response. The children had to be reminded of that. And as us children got older, we cared less and less about the gifts and just enjoyed spending time with the giver. The relationship became the driving source of joy. We would return again and again to seek the embrace and the experience of being with those loved ones who provided so much love.
In our text today, we have lepers who receive a gift. All ten suffered from leprosy. Their condition relegated them to the outskirts of their communities. They lost all social engagement, privilege, and status. As Jesus was slowly making His way to Jerusalem, he was walking the border between Galilee and Samaria, two areas that didn’t get along very well. The band of ten were caught between two societies that didn’t accept each other very well and wouldn’t accept the ten who, by custom, were to remain at a distance because of their condition.
They cry out to Jesus for a compassionate work, a work of mercy, and He tells them to go show themselves to the priest. Only a priest could examine them and deem them safe and ready to re-enter society. This would be restoration of their place and role in the community. They did as Jesus asked, without hesitation, and they were healed. Their disease was gone.
This is where the story gets interesting. Nine of the ten walked on to the priest to have their role in society restored. But one turned back, and it says that he saw that he was healed. The one recognized that he had been made well. Rather than going straight to the priest to have his healing made official, he turns back and runs to Jesus. The text says he praises God, falls on his face before Jesus, and gives Him thanks.
The one came back to squeeze His neck. What separated the one from the nine was the gratitude toward the giver. And the other nine are not off the hook. The implication of the one being identified as a Samaritan means that the other nine were most likely Jews, and they should have known better.
The nine would go and have their healing certified. Ultimately, they were choosing to return to their former way of living. But the one would turn to a new way of life, a life changed by Jesus, a life centered on Jesus.
The expectation of Jesus is that we would be a people who give thanks to Him. For it is in giving thanks to God that we know we are right with God. Jesus says to the one, “Your faith has made you well.” The original meaning of the word ‘well’ is ‘saved’. It was more than just his leprosy that was healed. It was more than just his place in society that was restored. The one was saved; he was made right with God. He did not put his stock in the gift but in the giver. The one now had a source of praise, of living, of genuine purpose. His life was changed beyond not being sick anymore. This was eternity at work in the temporal. This was the kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of this world.
Every day, we are faced with the choice of either enjoying our lives or enjoying the One who gives us life. The blessings that we have come from God, and when we find our source of life in Jesus we receive something so much more than just a blessing. We receive salvation. There is a wholeness in salvation that surpasses what the world can offer. The wholeness, the wellness that God brings is having the kingdom of God at work in your life. You’re experiencing heavenly life in the midst of your earthly one.
When was the last time you squeezed the neck of God? Can you hear the Holy Spirit prompting you to run and thank Him in such a way? When was the last time you truly praised God’s name, maybe even with a loud voice like the Samaritan leper? The tense question is, how often do you run to God and throw your arms around his neck to say “thanks?”
The challenge for us today, is to walk away from here knowing that we belong at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Look for the many, many different ways you can return to Him and be thankful. And like the relationship that grows with those old givers in your life, may you find joy and peace and wholeness in the love of God through Jesus Christ. You are the one he has saved, so let us return and give thanks. Amen.