Thankfulness has become a rare commodity these days, which has an impact on our health and wellness. In fact, Mark Hyman, MD, Director, Center for Functional Medicine stated in a health.clevelandclinic.org 2018 article titled, Gratitude Can Boost Your Health: 5 Ways to Develop It, “Gratitude will enhance the quality of your experience: your ability to be awake to what is real and true in each person you touch, in each moment you live, in difficult times and in happy ones.” Let us ask God to impress our minds with gratefulness. -Online Content Manager
The familiar story of the 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19) is often used to contrast the gratitude of the Samaritan with the ingratitude of the nine sons of Israel, and rightly so. Jesus constantly faced the conceit of a nation that seemed to be oblivious to the fact that it was living in the consequences of faithless disobedience. Yet a sharper focus on the exchange between Jesus and the thankful Samaritan should cause us to consider seriously the difference between what it means to be healed and be made whole.
The 10 lepers—no doubt forced by their circumstances—coexisted with a mutual sense of community. Their leprous affliction didn’t just accelerate the inevitability of death, but disenfranchised them from society through isolation and left them physically and emotionally vulnerable in a world that believed leprosy was a curse from God. Oddly enough, the fact that Jews and Samaritans hated each other was inconsequential in the face of the 10 lepers’ instinctive need to survive by any means necessary, so they banded together in community in the hope that there would be strength in numbers.
Mercy Said Yes?
Luke records that they stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13). Their heads were not bowed; their eyes were not closed; they were not on their knees, but what they did was nothing short of prayer. Their pleading cries remind us of the penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143), in which the psalmist expresses culpability in sin. In other words, it stands to reason that the 10 lepers believed that their affliction was the result of their sin. And so they cried out—as the Greek text renders it literally—“Jesus, Master, You must have mercy on us!”
There can be little doubt that they had heard of Jesus’ exploits and believed that He could save them from the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, now known as Hansen’s disease. They prayed in faith believing that Jesus would remove their burden.
According to Luke’s record (Luke 17:14), when Jesus saw the lepers, He instructed them to go and show themselves to the priests. Curiously, Luke did refer to when Jesus heard them. It may be that Luke’s burden, as a physician, was to convey that Jesus not only heard the plea of the 10 lepers but also saw the extent of their afflictions and empowered them—through obedience to His command— to participate in their own healing. The text tells us that “as they went, they were cleansed.” Their journey to the priests—in the obedience of faith—was the prescription to their healing, but there was something more.
After they were healed, all but one of them would be enjoy the privileged status of a Jew. All but one of them would be considered a son of Abraham. That was the one who returned. He retraced his steps, fell at the feet of Jesus, and thanked Him because he hadn’t just been healed, but had been made whole. It is evident that Jesus desired to make them all whole, but the nine former lepers— who represented the recalcitrant nation—settled for being healed when they might have been made whole.
Asking the Samaritan, “Weren’t all 10 cleansed?” (see Luke 17:17), Jesus initiated the work of habilitating the Samaritan. He affirmed the obvious value of community out of which the plea for help was expressed. He then— in a subtle but obvious way—removed the psychological stigma of inferiority from the Samaritan when He asked him, “Where are the nine?” (verse 17). The Master’s question unveils in the actions of the Samaritan (now distinguished from his nine colleagues as a result of expressing his gratitude for being healed) a response that is indicative of a deeper transformation than can be subsumed under healing.
The double outcast: Samaritan and leper receives the ultimate compliment when Jesus poses this illuminating rhetorical question: “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” The Samaritan’s double affliction robbed him of his God-given identity, and without the encounter of faith, without the challenge of obedience, and without his expression of gratitude he would forever remain a “foreigner,” an outsider. But for his irrepressible compulsion to worship at the feet of his Deliverer, we might not understand the critical difference between being healed and being made whole.
While one can be healed without a significant spiritual transformation, one cannot have a spiritual transformation without being made whole. Set apart now from his peers, the Samaritan, healed and whole, has become the epitome of those whom Christ came to seek and to save. Being healed celebrates the here and the now, but being made whole celebrates being conformed to the eternal image of the Savior and integrated back into society.