In Luke 17, Jesus was passing between Samaria and Galilee when he saw ten lepers who begged Him to heal them. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests (who, according to the Old Testament Law, were the people who could inspect them and confirm if the leprosy was gone). In faith, they left for the priests, and on their way, they were cleansed of their leprosy. One of the ten returned to fall on his face before Jesus and thank Him. In response, Jesus asked three questions.
1. “Were there not ten?”
Jesus doesn’t have a problem with math. He can count your hair, the days of your life, the innumerable stars. He can count the grains of sand on the seashore. He’s a multiplication expert; he did it with the fish and loaves. He knows how to do addition, for he adds to His church. He knows the art of subtraction; He takes away my guilt and sin. He knows division; He separates the sheep from the goats. He doesn’t need a calculator or even a pad and pencil. He is the inventor of geometry, trig, calculus, and physics. The only time He forgets how to count is when He doesn’t count my sins against me.
Jesus knew there had been ten lepers, and yet only one had returned. What Jesus is doing here is making an observation. It’s that only a fraction of people in this world are truly thankful to God. Romans 1:21 explains, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Psalm 107:2 encourages us to resist this spiral of ingratitude: “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.”
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.”
2. “Where are the nine?”
People often forget to say thanks, and one of God’s biggest questions concerning mankind is our ingratitude. We see throughout Scripture that ingratitude for God’s blessings has long been a problem. For example,
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12, NIV)
Jesus’ “Where are the nine?” is another way of asking why we so easily respond to God’s gifts with apathy.
“Be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
3. “Why this one?”
Jesus then noted that the one former leper who returned to say thanks was not even one of Jesus’ countrymen. He was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18, NIV). Sometimes, religious outsiders show more faith and gratitude than the believers (e.g., see Matthew 8:5-12; 15:21-28).
4 Ways We Lose Our Thanksgiving
The Grinch steals Christmas, but Thanksgiving often just gets lost. How? There are four ways we can lose our gratitude.
1. Thanks gets lost in elation.
The ancient Hebrews were horrified by the disease of leprosy and were instructed by God in the Old Testament Law to stay clear of it. Some conditions of leprosy lasted only a few months or even a few years. In those cases, a person could be eventually declared clean by the priests and restored to the community. However, leprosy could also last up to a decade or more and eventually result in death. In Hebrew society, such leprosy meant a life sentence of being banished.
Try to imagine the lonely life of a leper in the ancient world. Hunger for some sort of human relationships drove lepers to seek community with one another. It’s interesting in this Luke 17 account that even social and ethnic barriers that kept people in that culture apart were not a consideration among lepers starving for fellowship. There was a Samaritan living among the ten lepers, where, normally, the Samaritan would have been considered unacceptable, even repulsive.
Jesus Healing the Ten Lepers: “In Hebrew society, such leprosy meant a life sentence of being banished.”
Now that you have a hint at how desperate these men were, consider how the ten must have felt when they discovered they had been healed. Completely cured with perfect skin and restored limbs. It must have been an overwhelmingly stunning moment! Can you hear their exclamation as they raced to see the priests? They got their lives back! They were elated and I don’t blame them. Perhaps they were so lost in their blessing that they missed the reality of One who made it possible. They were so busy celebrating that they forgot to say, “Thank you.”
There’s a delicate balance here. We should celebrate the blessings God pours out on us. We should revel in our deliverance from sin, the transformation of our lives, the riches of being a follower of Jesus. We should party when God provides a job in desperate times, when we are healed from the incurable, when barren wombs conceive, when crashes are survived, when marriages are restored, when the mortgage is paid, when the wayward come home, when the lonely find a friend, when the habit is kicked, when a soldier returns, etc.
Yet in our joy, we must not let the blessing overshadow the Source. The euphoria of our personal gain can prompt thanksgiving, but oddly enough, it can become the end instead of the means. We can even make worship more important than the One to be worshiped. Thanking the Lord can get lost in our elation.
Jesus Healing the Ten Lepers: “In our joy, we must not let the blessing overshadow the Source.”
2. Thanks gets lost in expectation/entitlement.
We don’t really know what all was going on in the minds of those nine Hebrew men who were healed of leprosy. But if they were like some of the prevailing people of that day, there may have been a sense of entitlement going on. They were God’s people. Like no other people, they felt privileged under the provision and protection of God. After all, they had a covenant with God. They were Abraham’s descendants. They could quote the promises. They were God’s children, and God was supposed to take care of them. They had cried out for mercy and God had sent His anointed to help them.
Maybe the nine failed to say thanks because God had merely done what they expected Him to do—what He was supposed to do. After all, this was Jesus, and that’s just what He does.
Whether or not the nine were feeling that way, that kind of entitlement thinking can subtly seep into our lives. I begin to assume God is supposed to make my life better. That’s what He’s here for, right? That’s His nature, His responsibility. So when the blessings flow, thanks sometimes gets lost in the expectation that God’s purpose is to serve me. He’s just doing what He is supposed to do. Our view becomes “meistic.” In fact, some get quite put out with God or doubtful about God when He doesn’t bless them or relieve them as they assume He will.
Jesus Healing the Ten Lepers: “Some get quite put out with God or doubtful about God when He doesn’t bless them or relieve them as they assume He will.”
When you were growing up, you likely didn’t thank your parents every time they drove you to where you wanted to be, washed your laundry, read you a story, or put food on the table. You weren’t surprised when they sat down to pay the bills; you simply assumed that they would. They probably did a lot of things for you that you weren’t even aware of. They were doing what parents are supposed to do: take care of you. I wonder if thanksgiving to God often gets lost in that same kind of attitude of expectation.
3. Thanks gets lost in ritual/regulations.
The law of God spelled out in Leviticus 13 that lepers were to show themselves to the priests to be officially declared clean and fit to be part of the community again. That is one reason why Jesus sent the ten lepers directly to the priests. It was on the way that they realized they had been healed, but only one stopped at that point and returned to Jesus to thank Him. The rest stuck with the procedure.
Perhaps the nine wondered if failure to follow the law had caused their disease in the first place. Perhaps they feared if they didn’t follow the law, something worse would happen to them. Maybe they thought they could thank Jesus later, but the most important thing right then was to comply with the regulations.
Jesus Healing the Ten Lepers: “It was on the way that they realized they had been healed, but only one stopped at that point and returned to Jesus to thank Him.”
People can get so focused on the proper procedure that they fail to genuinely thank our deliverer and Lord. I’ve seen that happen in church worship so often. People get so fixed on the way the service is done—was this or that the proper way to do church?—that they fail to really worship. I don’t believe that proper procedure is irrelevant, but we don’t want to lose sight of the Lord Himself. We don’t want to miss being overwhelmed by His greatness and to humbly thank Him.
4. Thanks gets lost in doubt.
It is interesting how Jesus closes the conversation with the former leper: “And he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:19). There is a strong connection between our confidence in what He can do and our eagerness to thank Him. When we start to doubt the goodness of God and whether our blessings really come from him, we don’t do much thanking.
What Gratitude Really Does
Ironically, it is easy to make the point of gratitude myself. Studies have shown therapeutic benefits of gratitude, but Christian gratitude should go much deeper than something we do for ourselves. Consider what Jesus sees as the essence of giving thanks:
“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:15-19, NIV, emphasis added)
Jesus receives our gratitude as “praise to God” (NIV) and “glory to God” (NASB). True gratitude goes much deeper than a therapeutic exercise. It also goes deeper than merely civility, decency, common courtesy, or protocol. This is not a “mind your spiritual manners” moment. Jesus is not a parent prodding and cajoling you to always say “thank you.” Gratitude is a beautiful means of expressing God’s worthiness and giving Him the glory He deserves.
“Jesus receives our gratitude as ‘praise to God’ and ‘glory to God.'”
Gratitude toward God means giving Him the glory. It is about developing our attitudes, speech, behavior, and life to give glory to God. So many blessings for which we should be thankful are right in our midst. So, we gladly trace the blessings to their Source and bow before Him.