Luke 17:11-16 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.
In the ancient world, nothing brought more fear upon humanity than leprosy. The disease has terrorized mankind for centuries. Leprosy was often associated with sin, so lepers were considered unclean and completely ostracized from the rest of society. They were exiles and outcasts and entirely untouchable.
In the passage above from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus offers the hope of healing to ten lepers on His way to Jerusalem. Amidst their affliction, they cry out, “Master, have mercy on us.” Interestingly, Jesus does not promise to cure them right away, but instead instructs them to go and show themselves to the priests, who had the authority to determine whether or not they were healed and could be welcomed back into society. So, they trusted Jesus and they went.
On their way, something miraculous happened. Their disease was cured. We don’t know how long the healing took or where Jesus was in comparison to where the lepers were told to go. Were the priests across the street or miles away? No one can be sure. But it is worth noting that this could have been a pretty significant journey. They may have had to travel a considerable distance. They might have even been closer to their destination than to Jesus when they realized what had taken place.
What we do know, however, is that nine out of the ten did not turn back. Maybe they had intentions to, but only one former leper prioritized taking action by giving thanks to his Healer. He returned to glorify God while the others disappeared as soon as they received what they were asking for.
Luke 17:17-19 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
How often do we have good intentions to show appreciation, but when we get busy, gratitude falls to the wayside? We have things to do. We have priests to get to and we don’t have time to go back for thanksgiving. Other places in Scripture tell us that this lack of gratitude dishonors God.
Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Gratitude is not merely something we feel, but rather a demonstration of our obedience to Christ. It is easy to think the nine former lepers who did not turn back to Jesus must have simply been ungrateful. But, possibly more likely is that they did feel thankful, but kept those inward feelings to themselves. The difference between the one who turned back and the nine who did not is that the one who returned displayed his gratitude in an act of reverent worship. He literally fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet.
Giving thanks to God should be one of the most distinctive marks of a Christian. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we are grateful to God for all He has done for us without expressing real acts of love and charity. This week, as most Americans gather around the dinner table, my hope is that we would not let this holiday be limited to a special meal. Instead, my prayer is that we would spend our Thanksgiving prioritizing and living out the gospel of truth. The Son was declared unclean, taking on the leprosy of our sin, so that we might be justified by His righteousness and be made whole. His redeeming work on the Cross is our motivation for turning back, giving thanks, and doing good.
Psalm 105:1 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!