This Gospel has much to say about gratitude and salvation. All 10 of the lepers were given the gift of healing, but only one found salvation because he recognized the gifts he had been given and knew to whom he owed thanks.
At the outset of this story we know that these ten men are stuck – Stuck in a “no-man’s” land of being socially, religiously, and physically unclean having to distance themselves from but all other lepers. By the end of the story, all ten were made well. But one has something more. He has seen Jesus, recognized his blessing and rejoiced. Because he saw what had happened, this man is not just healed, but is made whole, restored, drawn back into relationship with God, and his family, friends and neighbors. In all these ways he has won salvation.
Recently I heard a true story of gratitude that wrought salvation. The lady who told the story works downtown in a large city. Every morning, she encountered a middle‑aged woman in a shabby coat soliciting spare change from passers-by. She greeted everyone with a smile and a pleasant “Good morning.” The lady who told the story almost always gave her something. After almost a year of this routine, however, the woman in the shabby coat disappeared. My friend wondered what had happened to her. .
Then, one beautiful morning, she was in her place in front of the church, still wearing the same, shabby coat. As folks reached into their purses or pockets for their usual donation, the woman stopped each of them. “Thank you for helping me all those days,” she said. “You won’t see me again because I’ve found a job.” With that, she reached into a bag and handed each one a wrapped package. She had been standing at her old spot waiting, not for a handout, but for the people she recognized so that she could give each of them a doughnut. She recognized those who had given to her in her time of need. This is gratitude!
In our account today ten men encounter Jesus and called out (the scripture say “loudly” or yelled) “We want to be well!” You may know that leprosy also attacks the vocal chords so that these men probably could only make a raspy sound. But that didn’t stop them from raising their voices and crying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” The gracious Lord Jesus will never turn a deaf ear to a cry like that!
Jesus appears to do nothing, but quietly directs the men: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Now, you have to understand that the local priest, besides leading worship services was also something of a health official – to test and certify a complete removal of the dread disease and then to announce that the person was healed.
As these men took heed of Jesus’ words and set out in search of the priest, one may have noticed his hand, once eaten away by the disease now tingled with life. Or maybe he dropped his crutch when we saw his leg was back, healthy, whole and complete. Their skin was beginning to clear and regain natural color. One looked at the other, another looked at the rest, and the screaming started. The smiles broke into cheering, and a sweet madness. They raced off in the distance, hardly believing that the nightmare was finally over.
But in order for the miracle to happen, the men had to start a journey in faith before their circumstances had begun to change even one tiny bit. We are not told whether the ten lepers had a debate about whether or not to go. I can well imagine one of them arguing, “We’ll look like fools if we show up before the priest in our present condition!” Another countered, “Yes, but we’ve got nothing to lose; this is our only hope.” “But it hurts to walk on these leprous feet!” “I know, but if we do what He says, maybe we’ll be healed.” “But this isn’t the way He healed the other lepers. Why doesn’t He heal us in the same way?” “I don’t know, but we must obey.”
Maybe they didn’t have any such debate, since the text doesn’t record any, but at any rate, it says, “as they were going, they were cleansed.” It must have been a marvelous experience!
One of the men came back to Jesus. The gospel does not make it clear whether he had seen the priest and been declared clean. The evangelist tells us he praised God. He was thankful. He was public about it. He was loud – he wasn’t shy at all.
Why was he so loud? This guy had been forced to yell for as long as he’d had leprosy. Might have been years? He’d probably yelled so long, he didn’t know how to come to the Lord quietly, or even in a normal voice. When he came back and fell at the feet of Jesus, he was just louder than the normal person, and he was praising God.
He had reversed his steps, put his family on hold, put the priest on hold, and came back to the one who was the Cause of his celebration. His response, his thankfulness led to action.
Jesus asked: “Where are the other nine?” They had got what they wanted from God in terms of healed bodies. But, according to the story, they never returned to Jesus to receive salvation. They received the temporal benefit of healed bodies, but it is only to the one thankful leper who returned that Jesus proclaimed, “Your faith has saved you.” In the same way, it is possible to receive special blessings from God in answer to prayer, and yet to fall short of the best blessing of all. Thus when we realize that God has blessed us with some temporal blessing, we must not become satisfied with that and stop before we’ve thanked the Source of all blessings.
A story is told of a man who was lost in the woods. Later, he told how frightened he was and how he had even finally knelt and prayed. Someone said, “Well, obviously God answered your prayer?” “Oh, no,” the man replied. “Before God had a chance, a guide came along and showed me the way.”