We all know the story. It used to be appointed for Thanksgiving, so many of us preachers tackled on it annually for decades between football games.
Jesus is in some unnamed village between Samaria and Galilee, on his way to Jerusalem, for we-all-know-what. Ten lepers meet Jesus, asking for mercy. With an ostracizing disease they cannot participate in religious, social or financial life of the community. Leprosy could be any number of diseases. An unknown spot on the arm could be diagnosed as leprosy by a priest. The law was designed for the safety of the whole community, like not eating swine, but like all laws, it could be abused.
Jesus commands they go see the priests. On the way they are healed. Visiting the priests was not for healing. A priest would have to give them a clean bill of health, before they could return home to mainstream society. Being sick, or more accurately here, unclean, inferred divine disfavor. If you had leprosy, God was clearly punishing you for some hidden sin. Healing was then a sign of forgiveness.
They leave, for home presumably, but one of them turns and begins praising God with a great voice (phoneis megaleis/φωνης μεγάλης). I love the image of praising God with a megaphone. Falling at Jesus’ feet he says the two important words we are taught as children: “Thank you,” (Euchariston/εὐχαριστων). Giving thanks is a eucharistic event. Taking the eucharist is an act of Thanksgiving. It is the heart incurvatus en se as Luther said, no longer turned inward, but now turned outward in joy and thanksgiving for God, life, love, Christ, the other. This leper has found more than physical healing.
Jesus is not soft here: “Were not ten cleansed? So, where are the other nine? Is no one going to praise God but this foreigner? Okay, son, move along. Your faith has made you well.” Thoughts:
1. Jesus isn’t happy with a 10% return. In his parable of the sower and the seed, he seems to expect at least 25% of the seeds to fall on good soil and bear fruit. 1/10 lepers returning to praise God and give thanks catches his attention.
2. There is a running critique of Israel’s lack of faith in Luke. Foreigners consistently have more faith than Israelites. Jesus, perhaps ironically, points out that this person is not one of the orthodox, righteous insiders. To wit: “Oh look, a heathen gives praise to God! Hmm. Where are the faithful? In every generation “religious” becomes aligned with “judgmental.” Jesus presents faith not as a high horse or a pointing of the finger, but rather as compassion, praise, gratitude, joy!
3. Once again a scandalous Samaritan is made a hero in Luke. This must have irked some folks.
4. “Your faith has made you well,” is actually “Your faith has saved you.” “Sodzo” is the verb (ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε). Luke uses salvation language again. Salvation, not life after death – pie in the sky when you die – but salvation in it’s fullness: one made right with God. Paul would say “justified.” He says, “Your faith has made you right with God.” Here is justification by grace through faith, even in Luke with his rich/poor flip-flop theology of the afterlife.
His salvation is revealed by his turning to praise God and give thanks. Meister Eckhardt’s words (my second favorite German heretic) have stuck with me all these years: “If the only prayer you ever prayed was ‘Thank you,’ it would be enough.” Having a heart of gratitude, a heart that explodes in praise of God, these are signs of salvation. Luke’s Jesus will use similar words with Zaccheus two chapters later after Zach gives half his stuff away: “Today salvation has come to this household.”
Today. Gratitude, generosity and joy are signs that salvation is here. Now.