Please But No Thank You
Fourteenth after Trinity
Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
Susan recently got on me for not minding my manners, “You didn’t say, “Please,” or, “Thank you,” she said after putting drops in my infected ear. My defense is that it did not occur to me to use my magic words, since I did not find the procedure pleasant.
St. Luke tells us about 10 men who said, “Please,” but only one who said, “Thank you.”
1. The Men
1.1. Destination. Luke marks a turning point in Jesus’s ministry in chapter 9, verse 52. Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” You see in his face absolute, irreversible determination. Though ultimately he will be raised from the dead and will ascend to heaven, he knows that first he must face arrest, trial, mockery, condemnation, and crucifixion. He is stubbornly committed to his mission of saving us from sin and all its consequences. This miracle is not just a remarkable event. It is a sign of the redemption Jesus will accomplish.
1.2. Lepers. Jesus is traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria when he comes to an unnamed village. Ten lepers approach him.
What we call leprosy is a bacterial disease that can be cured by antibiotics. However, in Biblical the word translated “leprosy” in our Bibles covered a whole range of skin diseases.
People with skin symptoms were required to go to priests who examined them and put them into one of two categories, clean or unclean. If the person was pronounced unclean, the consequences were severe:
The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.
The point of all this was not disease control. The camp was clean, because God, who is holy, lived there among his people. Anything or anyone unclean had to be excluded from the camp. The worst thing about these diseases was not that they were necessarily fatal or incurable but that a person was unclean, not allowed to participate in worship or the life of family and community.
Sometimes these skin diseases cleared up. If a person thought his disease healed, he could not just declare himself well. He had to go back to a priest for examination. If the priest thought he was well and should be reclassified as clean, there was an elaborate process for a person going back to his community.
These ten men lived together because the only company they could keep was with fellow lepers. That is why this mini-community included not only 9 Jews but one Samaritan. Normally Jews and Samaritans did not have contact with each other, but this was a community of unclean men. Shared trouble can overcome a lot of barriers and bring people together.
Here are ten men, all afflicted with leprosy, all classified unclean, cut off from synagogue and temple, removed from their families, exiled from their communities. The victims wore the torn clothes of mourning because their condition was like a living death.
2. The Miracle
2.1. Mercy. When the men realized Jesus was near, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They were suffering the miseries of leprosy; they had little to lose; so they begged Jesus to show them mercy by healing them.
There is no prayer that expresses more accurately our deepest needs than, “Lord, have mercy.” We want God to look at our miseries in this sinful world, to have pity on us even when our miseries are the result of our sinful choices, and to relieve us. We are in pain, physical or emotional, because of illness, job loss, bill collectors, marital infidelity, addictions, and we call out for mercy.
We ask the Lord to see our misery, even self-caused, and to show us mercy. We ask him to look upon us sinners, miserable, guilty, and condemned and to spare us, deliver us, relieve us. Last Sunday, when we said the Litany we called out to the Lamb of God, Christ, our Lord, four times to have mercy upon us. This morning, after we heard the summary of the Law, we sang three times, “Have mercy upon us.” Shortly in the Prayer of Confession we will ask the Father to be merciful because of the burden of our sins. The absolution will invoke God to be merciful and to pardon and deliver us from all our sins.
2.2. Healing. Jesus did not touch them or say anything except, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” He only spoke those words which no doubt challenged them. In the Old Testament the leprous Syrian general Naaman stumbled over the word of the prophet Elisha who told him to go and wash 7 times in the Jordan River. These men may have looked at their skin, and seeing no change have asked themselves, “Why would we go to the priest when there is no sign of improvement much less healing?”
But they went. And it was as they went that they were healed. They had to trust and act on the word of Jesus, and the result was their healing. Let me tell you what this means and does not mean for us.
It does not mean what faith healers, prosperity gospel teachers, and name-it-and-claim-it preachers say. You don’t say, “I have cancer, and I believe Jesus wants me to be well, so I am going to believe that Jesus has healed me, and I am going to cancel all my medical appointments and go on with my life.” You do not have a word from Jesus for that.
But you do take Jesus at his word, as he speaks in Scripture through prophets and apostles, even when your feelings deny it or you cannot see it.
You believe that there is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.
You believe your true identity is that you are a new creation in Christ.
You believe that nothing can separate you from the love of God in
You believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the
You believe that, though your body is laid in a grave at the last day
Christ will raise you up in glory.
The lepers asked for mercy and Jesus showed them mercy.
3.1 Samaritan. All 10 were healed. All ten were relieved. They would get their lives back. Nine of them kept going to the priests to get their cleansings confirmed so that they could return to their families and communities. But one stopped in his tracks and went back to Jesus. He had called out loudly for mercy and now with loud voice he glorified God. When he got to Jesus, he fell down at the feet of Jesus with his face to the ground, and thanked him.
As it turns out, the one who returned to give thanks was the one you would least expect, for he was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were of mixed ethnicity. When the Syrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, they deported many of the Jews and moved people from other nations into the area. The Samaritans were the product of the intermarriages that took place. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible and had their own temple. Therefore, they did not know the true God or the way of salvation. This man did the unexpected. He glorified God and thanked Jesus.
3.2 Jesus. This man’s action led Jesus to ask a poignant question. “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was not one found to return and praise God, except this foreigner?” The nine Jewish lepers, who had far greater religious privileges and much purer knowledge of God and his salvation, are the ones who should have been expected to return with gratitude. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel we meet another surprising Samaritan. When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told the story of a man who was robbed and left for dead. A Jewish priest and the Levite did nothing for the man, while a Samaritan cared for him. The priest and Levite did not understand what it means to love a neighbor, while the Samaritan did. Now in this story the Samaritan leper understands and practices gratitude while the Jewish lepers do not.
Jesus said to the man, “Rise and go away; your faith has made you well.” The man’s gratitude revealed his genuine faith.
This man challenges us. Do we realize how much we needed cleansing from our sins? Do we understand that the way we are cleansed is by the shedding of the blood of Jesus on the cross? Do we sense what a wonderful thing he has done in removing the guilt and condemnation of our sins? Do we glorify God for this? Do we fall in humility at Jesus’s feet and thank him for saving us?
Do you know what is more important to the Christian life than a sense of duty? A sense of gratitude. The key to faithfulness in worship and to all obedience and service is not grinding out our duty but gratitude to Jesus who cleanses us from all sin.
When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
Even on earth, as through a glass
Darkly, let Thy glory pass,
Make forgiveness feel so sweet,
Make Thy Spirit’s help so meet,
Even on earth, Lord, make me know
Something of how much I owe.