There is a transformative power in giving thanks; and nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19. In those days, anyone suffering from any kind of skin condition that seemed contagious was marked out as a leper and was treated with great contempt and fear. Lepers were considered ceremonially impure; and in a society with limited medical options, they were forced to live outside of the camp of God’s people, separated from everyone else. However, Jesus never made those kinds of distinctions. He was always willing to draw near to lepers, often even laying hands on them as He healed them.
Luke tells us that as Jesus was entering a village one day, a group of ten lepers “stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Instead of walking by, Jesus stopped and told them to go and show themselves to the priests. That might not mean much to us today, but this is exactly what the law commanded a leper should do so that the priest could confirm the healing and declare the leper well enough to re-enter society.
However, when Jesus gave this instruction to the ten men, they were still lepers! Verse 14 tells us that it was only “as they went” that they were cleansed. In faith these men obeyed Jesus’s command, even though there had been no immediate sign of physical change! Luke doesn’t tell us at what point along the way they realized they’d been healed. Did it happen to them all at the same time? Did it happen to first one and then another? It is quite the scene to imagine. Instead Luke focuses on the fact that only one of them took the time to find Jesus again to thank Him.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
One might’ve expected that gratitude from a Jewish person, who understood about God’s dealing with men; but the only one to return in thanksgiving was a Samaritan, a foreigner who would have at that time been considered an outcast from God’s people in more ways than just the leprosy! Though Jesus healed all ten of them without regard to their backgrounds, I think it is obvious He was disappointed that only one came back to give thanks for what had happened.
All ten had faith; all ten were healed. But Jesus’s final words to the Samaritan imply that he received a deeper, spiritual healing in addition to the cleansing of his skin. This man had already been healed of leprosy, but Jesus said to him: “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Acknowledging God for all His good gifts and thanking Him for them brings another kind of healing…a healing deep inside us!
I was recently reading in a psychology paper about the wisdom in keeping a gratitude journal and the many benefits it brings. I was amazed to learn that a 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced much lower rates of post-traumatic stress! For years, similar research has shown that gratitude not only reduces stress and helps you to sleep better, but this study revealed it also plays a major role in overcoming trauma.
God longs to heal every part of our woundedness — our sins, yes, but also the sorrows they bring. This one leper reminds us that giving praise to God with thanksgiving for all He has done makes that happen.
May God bless you!