One out of ten. That’s how many lepers returned to give thanks to Jesus for healing them in Luke 17:11-19. Nine of them just kept going about their lives.
I’m sure that the nine were happy. How could they not be? Leprosy was a contagious skin disease that caused them to be outcasted from their communities and unclean before the law. To be healed from leprosy was life altering—not life altering as in “I just won the lottery,” but life altering as in “I just got my life back.” To be healed of leprosy was a permission slip to return to your wife and children, your friends, your job, and your community. To be healed of leprosy was to regain your personhood.
And yet, only one of the ten returned to give Jesus, the one who healed them, thanks. That’s supposed to shock us. However, what would have shocked the original readers of Luke’s account even more is that the one who returned was a Samaritan.
A Samaritan was a half-breed Jew who would have also been seen as a heretic. Not only did they not come from pure Israelite stock, but they also didn’t worship according to the rules. Samaritans were despised and discriminated against. They were called names. They were the victims of racism. In short, the one who gave thanks to Jesus would have been voted the least likely of the ten to do the right thing.
Luke’s gospel tends to draw attention to such people. He’s the one who records Jesus saying to a Roman centurion (also despised), “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” He’s also the one who records Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Luke delights in overturning our biases. He loves showing how the gospel crushes discriminatory attitudes by reconciling even the most unlikely candidates to God.
Luke would have been labeled a “Social Justice Warrior” if he were around today. His idea of social justice, however, did not derive from Marxist ideology. His version of social justice came from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t only come for Israel. He came to save us all. He came for the upper crust and the outcast. He came for the privileged few and the oppressed masses. He came for Samaritans, too.
Where were the other nine? How could they be so ungrateful? Every decent person knows that you are at least supposed to write a “thank you” note when someone goes out of their way to bless you. To be healed of leprosy deserves some kind of acknowledgement of gratitude.
But maybe we shouldn’t be so shocked. A few years ago, the Kentucky Baptist Convention released a study of church attendance in the state. Guess how many people worship in evangelical churches on any given Sunday in Oldham County, Kentucky, where I live and pastor? One out of ten.
But certainly, it’s different, right? I don’t personally know of any citizen in my community who has been healed by Jesus of leprosy. But I do know this: Every single one of us receives God’s blessings every single day, for “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jam. 1:17). Every blessing we have comes from God, and the vast majority of us refuse to acknowledge it.
Paul tells us in Romans 1:21 that this neglect of thanks is the fundamental problem with humanity. We receive God’s gifts, but we refuse to worship God as the giver. Instead, we are content, like the lepers, to focus on the gift. We worship the creation rather than the Creator. We are the nine.
Ours has been called the “Age of Entitlement.” The Bible reminds us that entitlement has always been the mindset of the human race. We live by expectation. We believe we deserve God’s grace, and we demand that he bless us. We like to talk about our rights.
But the Bible reminds us that we deserve nothing but judgment. We are rebels, and our only hope is God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. We will never discover true gratitude until we discover Jesus as our only hope. Gratitude is not the fruit of people who live by rights. Gratitude is the fruit of people who live by mercy.