Sermon: The Samaritan Leper

The Samaritan Leper
Luke 17:11-19 RUMC
19 November 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

A Sunday school teacher once asked her class what they were thankful for. One little boy raised his hand and said, “My glasses.”  When asked why he was thankful for that when most little guys were bitter about wearing them, he said, “Because they keep the boys from fighting me and the girls from kissing me.”

The theme in our gospel text is about one thing–thanksgiving. It is very simple: Ten men were given something; one returned to give thanks, nine did not.

My text is Luke 17:11-19.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

As Jesus approached a village, ten lepers stood far away and cried for mercy. Most believe the men had a type of leprosy called Hansen’s disease; it started with a small white patch on the skin and progressed over the entire body.  The unfortunate ones with the disease were called the “walking dead,” because those afflicted were highly contagious and with no hope for a cure.  Their ultimate destination was banishment into a leper colony.

Now Luke, the gospel writer, tells us the ten lepers cried out for mercy, and once they got Jesus’ attention, he told them to report to the priests for confirmation of their healing. Perhaps as they walked towards the temple, thy began to notice physical signs that they were becoming well.
It was at this point, that the Samaritan leper stopped, turned around, and went to thank Jesus for the miracle. Now I am reasonably certain that if the nine had gone to the high priest to get their confirmation of healing, then came back to thank Jesus, Luke would have written this down.  But it appears they did not.

This past week in the news, I thought it was interesting, amusing and reflective of the times in which we live. Three UCLA college basketball players were arrested for shoplifting in China and were detained. When they were released (which involved negotiations of the highest levels of government) there was an eventual confession, apology and thanks all rolled into one, which I was glad to see.  I suppose better late than never.

One individual whose life personified the idea of thankfulness or gratitude was a woman named Mary Reed. She was a missionary to India in the early part of the 20th century.  While Mary served, she noticed that nothing was done for the lepers, who were outcasts of society.
Though she took proper precautions, she spent much of her time with the lepers. In the course of time, she too had become sick with an illness that doctors could not diagnose.  I think you know where I am going with this.  In time, she developed numbness in one of her fingers and a rash on her face that would not go away.  Then at last a doctor realized that she had contracted leprosy.  Her reaction was interesting.
Instead of becoming bitter, angry, devastated or depressed, she decided to thank God for the blessings she already had. In time she began to realize that as a leper, she could reach more for the kingdom of God.  In her eyes, a person’s soul and where they spent eternity was of paramount importance.  That is how she got through it.

When it comes to becoming thankful, I think many are grateful, but they often forget. Their intentions are good, but they fail to follow through.  It seems from this story of the 10 lepers, 90% of the people do not thank God enough.

As a child of God, thankfulness is not a one time of year event, but an attitude that is part of us.

American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that if the stars came out only once a year, everyone would stay up all night to look at them. Unfortunately many take God’s grandeur for granted.

I also realize in life, bad things sometimes happen to good people, and it is difficult to honestly give thanks in the midst of pain. One scripture that has kept me going through tough times is Romans 8:28. “We know that in everything God works for good to those who love him.”

When we lived in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, there was a devastating tornado that went through the nearby towns on May 3, 1999. When I heard the sirens, I went into a basement for precaution.  When we received the all clear signal, we later learned this tornado had caused over a billion dollars’ worth of damage and 45 people were killed.
A week later I had to conduct a military funeral in one of the towns that was hardest hit, and it looked like a war zone. However there was one house that I will never forget:  The roof was gone; the glass in all the windows was shattered.  Clothes and personal belongings were scatted on the grass.  And spray painted on the bedroom wall was this message, “Thank you Jesus for sparing our lives.”

The person who wrote that certainly had their priorities straight, and sometimes life just comes down to that. Instead of becoming angry and frustrated about what is happening, we can look for the silver lining in the clouds.

If you are going through a difficult time, this is the time to lean in towards the trouble. Instead of running away, embrace it and the Lord.

In the current issue of the Methodist Interpreter Magazine, there are some interesting ways to practice gratitude at home or church.

  • Keep a Gratitude Journal-find the blessings in your career, family, finances, spirituality, friends and recreation.
  • Express thanks verbally or in writing.
  • Savor the moment. Eating, taking rides, visiting with grandchildren.
  • Thank God for the weather. Whether sunny, rainy, snowy, windy. Find the good in the forecast.
  • Write a note to someone you admire or appreciate in life. My wife wrote a note to a former high school teacher who is in her 90’s and it made the retired teacher’s day.
  • Read Psalm 100.
  • Rake your neighbors’ leaves.
  • Let the person behind you in the grocery store check-out line cut in front of you.
  • Visit a neighbor you have not seen in a while.
  • Volunteer a few hours at an animal shelter.
  • Smile and hold the door open for people.

These are some practical things we can do. Thanksgiving Day is more than a sit down meal.  It is an attitude of heart where we can give thanks for not only the good, but also those negative things that come our way.

Let me close. Just as the one Samaritan returned to give thanks, may we do the same.