Luke 17:11-19 Curing, Healing and Gratitude
This morning's reading from the Gospel is an account of ten healings Jesus did while on his way to Jerusalem. It speaks to the power of God that uniquely resided in and worked through Jesus. It also tells us that receiving a cure is different from being made whole. It highlights the gratitude of one of the men who was healed from a dreaded skin disease. Let's look at and unpack these eight short verses.
Jesus and his disciples are on the way to Jerusalem. They are about to enter a village in the region between Galilee and Samaria. As they approach the village a group of ten lepers call out to get his attention. Leprosy is one of the terrible diseases that humans have struggled with since the earliest of times. It is a contagious and severely disabling and disfiguring disease that was common in the Ancient Near East and other places. The disease is caused by the slow growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. Today we call the disease Hanson's Disease and it is treatable with several different kinds of antibiotics. The bacteria thrive in cool areas of the body near the skin surface, and nerves are permanently damaged by it. This nerve damage leads the victim to losing sensation of pain and burns or injury often goes unnoticed and creates further secondary problems and infections.
In Israel, the Law of Moses recognized that leprosy was a danger to the community. It recognized that any numbers of virulent skin diseases were a danger, and, since there was no cure, people who had such diseases were separated from the community. The priests declared them ritually or ceremonially unclean and they had to live outside of the community. There was little hope of a cure. People who had skin diseases often had leprosy but they could also have had psoriasis or fungal infections. The life of a victim of such skin disease was terrible. They could not work so they were forced to beg. They banded together for support as they were pushed out of their villages. Wherever they went, they had to stay away from people who did not have the disease and had to warn others that they must stay away by calling out, "Unclean, unclean!" ln Medieval Europe lepers wore bells to warn people of their presence. Fortunately today the disease is treatable through a multi-drug regimen of antibiotics and is uncommon in the western world. It is now characterized as a tropical disease. Ten lepers kept their distance but in their desperation called out to Jesus, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
The ten must have heard about Jesus and known that the healing power of God resided in him. They called him by name, Jesus, and they also called him, "Master." The only other people who called Jesus Master were his disciples. The ten recognized that Jesus was not just a rabbi but that he operated uniquely in the authority and power of God. They were not just looking for a few coins or some other handout. They were seeking the mercy of God.
When Jesus saw them, he said, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." He did not pronounce healing. He did not touch them. He simply told them to go to the priests for verification of healing. One of the requirements of the Law of Moses was that a person who thought they were healed from a dreaded skin disease must be examined by the priest. He then would be reexamined a couple of weeks later. If no disease is evident the priest would pronounce them clean and they could return to their place in society. The leper no longer would live as a feared outcast. The stigma of the disease would be removed from him and he would be restored to society. The priests did not heal but merely certified that healing had taken place. Jesus has no special formula for healing. In this case, he simply told them to go to the priests, and as they did so they were healed. As they walked to the priests their leprosy was healed and their lives were completely transformed. This healing was more than just recovering from a cold or the flu or even the Covid-19. It meant being reinstated to one's place among other people. It was akin to the raising of a dead person to life.
Something odd happened. Of the ten who were going to visit the priest for certification that they were healed, one noticed he was healed and turned back. He was praising God with a loud voice. He came to Jesus and fell on his face at Jesus' feet. He thanked him. Luke notes, "And he was a Samaritan." His stigma was a dual one. Not only was he a leper, he was also a hated foreigner. The Jews and the Samaritans were enemies and had no social contact.
Occasionally, they would do nasty things to each other. Normally they just stayed away from each other. In this case nine Jews went off healed and did not return to give thanks, but the foreigner, the Samaritan, came back and gave Jesus thanks for what God did to him through Jesus. Jesus was quite impressed with the Samaritan's response and said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."
Modern medicine does a great job effecting cures. If we are sick, we can go to our physician and receive medicine that will cure us. In the past there were lethal bacteria that killed but now medicines kill the bacteria. Surgeons cure many people from tumors and other problems that arise within the body. If you get a broken bone, an orthopedic physician will reset the bone and allow it to grow back together. If you have a damaged heart, the cardiologist will provide medicine or surgery to fix it. If you have a bad knee or hip, a surgeon can replace the damaged joint with an artificial joint and take away the pain. It is wonderful to live in a culture where there are so many ways to be cured of things that ail or afflict us. But curing an ailment or injury is different than genuine healing.
A cure deals with only one aspect of the human entity. We are not just our bodies. We are more than the physical. We are created in the image of God. Although we share with other physical beings the strange quality called life, we are more than our physical being. We are made up of both body and spirit. We are physical entities but are also spiritual ones. While the medical profession does fine work with the body, it has only recently acknowledged the spiritual aspects of human existence. While the cure affects the body, healing affects both
body and spirit.
The sinfulness of our human condition affects all the areas of our being. As long as we delude ourselves with the notion that we are pressed only to do good and be good, we will never be healed. We humans have a rich heritage. On the dark side, our heritage includes
generational and corporate sin. If all we had to deal with was personal sin, our life might be easier. But our lives are affected in many ways from generations past and from social conditions that press us to destruction. For example, certain racial groups have a high incidence of alcoholism. Native Americans and the Irish are two examples of such groups.
Some of us have inherited a propensity to alcoholism. At one level alcohol abuse is a choice but at another it is a deadly choice for many. Since sin is living outside God's kingdom or living a life contrary to that which God wants us to live, alcohol abuse is clearly sinful. Healing comes when one deals with the reality of sin in one's life and is found only at the feet of Jesus. That's where the Samaritan leper found healing. It is relatively easy to be cured of certain diseases but healing means dealing with realities we'd like to avoid. It is only as we face the reality of sin in our lives that we can move through darkness to the light of Christ. Only when we recognize our need for God and confess our sins do we find genuine healing.
The leper who returned to thank Jesus for his healing had gratitude. As we approach the National Holiday Thanksgiving Day, it's good to reflect on gratitude. "Gratitude is a natural expression of thanks in response to blessings, protection or love (Tyndale Bible Dictionary)." Believers in Jesus are people who show gratitude to God and to others. Ungracious people think only of themselves and show no gratitude. When I watch the videos of rioters and looters, I see a large number of people who have no gratitude and are selfishly deluded. They have been taught that they are victims and can take whatever they want. In contrast, there are people who recognize how God has blessed them and have great gratitude for God and others who have helped them along the way. Perhaps it might be good to give special thanks to God and others who have blest you as we move toward Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps it would be better to daily give God thanks and give thanks to others who have helped you along the way.
The story is about Jesus' healing ten lepers and the reality that God worked uniquely through Jesus providing healing and wholeness to people who otherwise had no chance of such healing. It is a story that points out the power of God and that the right response to God is gratitude. It shows us God's power working through Christ Jesus. It does not teach that all our diseases will be healed but tells us we can face anything in life or even death with confidence and hope in Christ Jesus. Outside of Jesus, one may find a cure but only in Christ Jesus can one find genuine and complete healing. If sin is weighing heavily on you, confess it to Jesus and receive forgiveness and healing. We live in a dark world filled with people in need of healing that comes from God. Are you opening yourself to the healing you need? Are you living as God wants you to live? Are you living out kingdom values or are you living out the dark values of the world?
I end this with the Apostle Paul's teaching to the Christians in Colossae. (Colossians (2:6-7) Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him having been firmly rooted and now built up in him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.