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Nine ungrateful lepers

Read: Luke 17:11-19

Perhaps no story in the Bible speaks more clearly about gratitude than the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers.

You may know the story. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and he is met by 10 lepers who cry out to be healed.  Jesus tells them to go to the priest, and as they go they are all cleansed.   At that point, only one of the nine comes back to say thank you.

Here are some further observations that show us how the virtues of gratitude, compassion, humility and generosity are often beautifully woven together.

  1. These men really needed help.  Leprosy was a terrible disease.  Mortal, disfiguring and alienating.  We see in Jesus the virtue of compassion at work, which is frequently associated with gratitude.
  2. It it those that need help that take the initiative.  They ask for help.  Their request is specific and urgent.   And in them we see the virtue of humility.
  3. Those that ask for help believe that Jesus can do something for them.  They call him Master, and have come to him because there is an element of faith.
  4. Jesus could have ignored them.  He had no obligation towards them and could have safely told them to go away as the acceptable social norm. But Jesus is generous and goes above and beyond the call of duty.
  5. What they receive is genuine, and responds exactly to their deepest needs, both physical and relational as they are integrated back into society.

But now the story goes in two directions as we see virtue and vice in the response of the no-longer-lepers.

  • Nine are healed and never come back to say thank you.  We wonder why as does Jesus… Had their suffering hardened them to believe they deserved grace and help? Were they simply too busy running back to their families?  Were they paradoxically too proud to undergo what they may have perceived as a further humiliation of gratitude? Had they spent lives in which their character had very little to be grateful for and thus now no gratitude emerges even in the face of the greatest gift?
  • One is healed and comes back to say thank you.  And, it is not coincidence that he is a Samaritan.  He was one that deserved even less as his people were in conflict and enmity with Jews like Jesus. But what he had was humility which we see as we imagine him thrown at the feet of Jesus saying thank you over and over again.

A prayer:  Lord, show me if I am like the nine lepers. If I do not see the good that is done to me because of the suffering I have been through.  If I do not take the time to express gratitude. If I take blessings for granted and always demand more.  I am at your feet to say thank you, for my life, for the good that comes my way, for the people that love me imperfectly, for my life in you.

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