“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.” Luke 17:15-16
In the Gospel of Luke, the author recounts a wonderful story in which Jesus heals ten men with leprosy. However, it is more than just a story about Jesus’ power to heal. It is a lesson about gratitude.
In the story, Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem by way of the border between Samaria and Galilee. On this route, Jesus invariably would have encountered both Jews and Samaritans. Significantly, these groups did not like each other.
However, as we know from the Gospels, Jesus was not swayed by his people’s prejudices against the Samaritans. For example, in his Parable of the Good Samaritan, the hero of the story is a man from Samaria. Moreover, Jesus first reveals himself as the Messiah to a Samaritan woman. It is interesting that time and again, Jesus chooses to appreciate and be good to a group who were reviled by his own people.
During the journey, Jesus enters a village where, from a distance, ten lepers call to him, shouting, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” The men were standing at a distance because they were outcasts from society.
In the Bible, it states that these men had “leprosy.” However, this would not have been our modern-day leprosy. Rather, it is likely that these 10 men had some sort of skin condition involving crustiness or flakiness.
In ancient times, people thought that skin ailments were the result of sinful behavior, such as slander, gossip or pride. They also thought that skin ailments were highly contagious. So, these men were required to keep their distance from society because they were viewed as being both contagious and sinful.
Imagine being one of the ten lepers. Imagine if you were separated from your family due to a skin condition. Imagine if you could only speak to your family at a distance. Worse yet, imagine if society believed that your skin condition was caused by your own sinfulness. Think of how sad and desperate you would be.
When Jesus hears these men calling to him, he tells them to go show themselves to the priests. They do as he tells them, and as they go to the priests, they are healed.
Can you imagine how excited these men were? How excited would you be if you were able to return to your family after being separated from them? You would want to rush home and hug everyone. Imagine being able to be part of society again after being ostracized. You would be so happy to be able to start a new life. In fact, you would be so excited that you might very well forget to thank the one who healed you.
Well, that is what nine of the lepers did. They forgot about the person who healed them. I can’t say that I blame them. If I had been separated from my husband and daughter for a very long time, I would be running to see them again as fast as my legs would take me.
It is easy to forget to say “thank you.” In life, when we have a problem, we pray fervently for God to fix it. And when God does, we are so excited that sometimes we forget who helped us.
However, one leper didn’t forget. When he saw that he was healed, he came back to Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, it states that “He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” It is easy to feel the emotions of that moment. Have you ever felt so relieved that you wanted to throw yourself at the foot of the cross and say, “Thank you”? I have.
I felt that way when my husband survived after being on life support for five days. I felt that way when I returned home after living overseas for a number of years. I feel that way every time my daughter comes home safely from school or a trip. “Thank you, God. Thank you for being so good to me.”
Interestingly, Luke notes of the nationality of the one grateful leper. He was a Samaritan. He was type of person who the Jews believed was bad. Yet, he turned out to be the one person who did the right thing.
This fact does not escape Jesus. He asks the Samaritan, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” He then tells him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Who are we? Are we like the nine lepers who forgot to say thank you? Or are we like the one grateful Samaritan?
Unfortunately, it is easy to be like the ungrateful lepers. It is easy to forget to say “Thank you.” When something good happens, it is easy to forget that this good thing didn’t just happen, but that God has answered our prayers.
Saying “thank you” to God isn’t just the right thing to do. When we are grateful to God, we mature spiritually. And as a result, our relationship with God improves.
For example, when we are grateful for God’s help in our lives, we are reminded that we are not alone. God is with us. He may not answer our prayers in the way that we want or on our timeline. But when we are grateful for His help, we are reminded that He is always with us.
In addition, when we are grateful for the many ways that God blesses us, we recognize that He is the source of all good things in our lives. It is easy to believe that we “own” our accomplishments. The problem with that belief is that it leads to unfounded arrogance. All our talents and gifts come from God. When we say “thank you” to God, we acknowledge that our ability to do anything good or impressive comes only from Him.
Finally, when we say “thank you” to God for taking care of us, we acknowledge that we need Him. It is tempting to think that we can do everything on our own. And admittedly, we can. But without God directing our steps, it is easy to go down a bad path. Without God, it is easy to succumb to pride, anger, meanness and a whole host of other destructive behaviors that can ruin our lives. When we are grateful to God, we realize that we need Him to guide our steps. And when we follow His direction, our lives are so much better.
I encourage you to take the time to read the short story of The Ten Lepers in the Gospel of Luke, 17:11-19. Meditate on each sentence and let the lessons from this story seep into your heart. Let them help you recognize the power of being thankful.