This seems like a pretty cut and dried healing scene we read in today’s gospel lesson. Jesus takes a little side road on his way to Jerusalem, comes across some lepers who beg for his mercy. He sends them to the priests—the people who would determine if they were healthy or sick—and on the way there, they are healed. One of the former lepers realizes that they have been made clean and runs back to thank Jesus. Jesus wonders aloud where the other nine are and especially remarks on the one thankful man as being a Samaritan—an outsider—barely even a Jew, in most people’s minds. He tells the thankful man to be on his way—his faith has made him well.
Yeah, sure, it’s a miracle, but it is Jesus after all and how many healing stories do we hear in a year’s time. Your faith has made you well. We’ve heard that before too. In the end, the real difference here is that one guy said thank you and the rest didn’t.
It’s easy in reading this to put our own feelings into the questions that Jesus asks. Where not 10 made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? How ungrateful! What are they thinking—obviously only of themselves. How dare they not thank Jesus for his healing!
But the truth is, we don’t know what Jesus’ tone of voice was when he asked about the other nine. After all, this is the man who has already told stories about searching for the lost sheep, the lost coin and about joyfully welcoming a lost, prodigal son. And there are nine formerly sick men who have not been found.
What we do know is that he healed all ten of them, regardless of who had enough faith to come back and thank him. Jesus’ work in our lives, his healing, his presence with us and his grace is not given based on what we give in return. We like to think of ourselves as being the one who came back to thank Jesus. After all, we are here in church on thanksgiving eve and we clearly have our priorities straight.
But how many times do we forget to go back and thank God for all that has been given to us? I venture to guess that if we actually took the time to thank God for everything with which he has blessed us, we would never be off our knees. But the truth is, so often we just don’t. Sometimes we credit something other than God—our own self-reliance, personal strength or intelligence or even good luck—for things that happen in our lives. Sometimes we are so busy looking at the things that drag us down that we cannot see how we have been made well.
So, most often, we are one of the lost nine. And, like them, we are not condemned by Jesus. There are no Woe to you’s from him. No wagging finger. No scolding. Only a question—where are you? It is this unearned unmerited grace that he gives us every day for which we are most grateful.