Why do you and I give? Do we give out of obligation, because God tells us to? Do we give out of guilt or because it makes us feel good or because we love this church? The Bible tells us its gratitude. We give because we are grateful. That’s where this comes in. As with a lot of Bible stories, at least the ones we have heard many times before, we actually don’t hear them anymore. They get too familiar. But every now and then, someone will tell a familiar Bible story in a way where you almost hear it for the first time. And you don’t simply see the story; you see your whole life in a new way. A preacher named Steve Eason did that for me as he spoke on this passage: Luke 17:11-19, and I share his incredible take on this story.
In this story, ten lepers get healed, but only one comes back? What happened to the nine? Jesus asks. Weren’t they grateful? More importantly, who is this guy? Who is this one grateful leper? We don’t know his name. Luke doesn’t tell us anything about him. So what follows is not true, but it could be.
We’ll call him Eli. Now Eli was born in the region of Samaria. That’s north of Jerusalem, and east of the Sea of Galilee. It’s not big, about 45 miles long and 35 miles wide. Eli grew up in this hilly country knowing this. Jews and Samaritans hate each other. They’ve hated each other since probably 780 B.C. That’s a lotta hate, hundreds of years of hate. When Jesus tells the Good Samaritan story, and he makes the hero be a good Samaritan, that’s a joke to a Jew. There is no such thing as a good Samaritan. Eli remembers his grandfather telling the stores of Jews and Samaritans, how the Jews saw the Samaritans as traitors and imposters, a race of half-breeds with a half-breed religion to go with it, but who claimed to be the rightful heirs to Israel’s religion, people who had tried to steal the covenant from Israel. Now the Samaritans had a different story. They saw themselves as cousins to the Jews. And they should be treated with respect. They should have all the full rights that the Israelites have.
So Eli grew up a Samaritan, yet he learned the Jewish Torah. He went to synagogue. He celebrated Passover and Pentecost, all the holy days. He observed the Sabbath. He grew up in a devout family. He got his education down south in Jerusalem, and came back to Samaria to work as a merchant. He got married to a beautiful woman named Rachel. They have two boys, Jacob and Ezra, seven and nine. Eli had a good life.
One day, he was at work. And Eli noticed a small, scaly, rough patch on his right arm. Throughout the day, it began to itch. That night, he put some cream on it. And the next day, there were more patches. After several days, he finally went to see his doctor. That’s when things changed. He saw the doctor’s concern. And he heard the carefully chosen words. Eli, I think you need to go see the priest. The priest? You only go to see the priest if you possibly have leprosy. “Yes, I have itchy patches but leprosy? How did I get that?”
The next day Eli and Rachel go to see the priest. And the news wasn’t good. He placed Eli in confinement for seven days as required by law. And on the 7th day, the priest came back and examined him. Eli had swelling in his skin that turned his hair white, and in the swelling was raw flesh. The disease had spread to his head, his back, to his chest, and parts of his legs. According to the law written there in Leviticus, the priest said the painful words. “You are unclean. You must now live outside the camp.” Wait a minute, I’m a businessman. I’m educated. I’m married. I have two boys. They all depend on me. This cannot be happening.
Rachel asked, even though she knew the answer. “Is there a cure?” And the priest said, “Rachel, no, there is no cure. I’m sorry” In an instant, their lives were crushed. Eli did not go home with Rachel. He would not sleep in his bed. He would not hold his boys. He would not eat at his table. Everything he touched from now on would be unclean. By law, in Leviticus, he would have to wear torn and tattered clothes so you could identify him as a leper. He could not groom his hair. And in public, when he spoke, he would have to cover his lips. When others approached him, by law, he must cry out. Unclean, Unclean! In other words, don’t come near me.
He smelled stench all day. He ate what little food was available. Nobody touched him. He lived void of any human touch. He couldn’t help but wonder as you might. What sin have I done that God would punish me like this? What have I done to deserve this? He thought about killing himself, as I would. But he couldn’t do it. He held out a crazy hope that one day he might get better.
One day he and nine other lepers were in the village begging for money. They heard how this carpenter named Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah was going to pass by. They had heard about this Jesus. They had head how he had healed the sick, even once cleaned a leper. That got their attention. He had caused a paralyzed man to get up from his mat and actually walk. They had heard the story of how this Jesus had raised a widow’s son from the dead. They had heard how he had walked on water and calmed a storm. He had cast demons out of a man who was naked and in chains and living in a cemetery because the community had no idea what else to do with him. But Jesus had freed him and restored him to his right mind. If they could get this man’s attention, maybe he would do for him what he had done for others. Eli thought. If I could just get Jesus’ attention, would he touch my life?
Jews would not even walk through Samaria. They would walk around that 35 mile strip of land to get to Jerusalem. They would not even walk on Samaritan soil. I’ve got to really hate you to not drive by your house ever. So Jesus is abiding by that tradition, and skirting the border of Samaria. So he comes to this village right on that border. Eli and his friends have gathered with the rest of the crowd on the main road. They have sat there all morning waiting for Jesus to come. The word comes. Jesus is coming! Everyone stood up. And the lepers did too, standing far off, covering their lips, bowing their heads, but their eyes searching for Jesus in the crowd. Finally, they see him. Eli’s heart is racing. He can hardly breathe. The lepers begin to cry out. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They do it over and over again. They beg for Jesus’ attention. And Jesus sees them.
No one sees a leper. Nobody looks at them. But Jesus did. Out of that whole crowd, Jesus paid attention to the lowest of the low. And just as quickly as that rash came on his arm, Eli’s life is about to change again. Jesus is walking there in the midst of his disciples, in the midst of the crowds surrounding him. He is going to Jerusalem to die, though no one knows that. And in the midst of that, he sees this ratty band of lepers in rags, crying out to him. And he looks out at them and throws this out. “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And the lepers go, “What? What did he say? Did he tell us to go show ourselves to the priests?” The only reason a leper goes to show himself to the priest is if he thinks that he is cured. But they don’t look seem cured? Go show yourselves to the priest?
What would you do? I’d go and show myself to the priest. And they did. Now, if you’re a leper, you can hardly walk. Your joints are frozen. Your toes are gone, most of your fingers. So they are hobbling to the synagogue. And on the way, their leprosy falls off. All the stench of my life in the dust. The foul order of who I am, the stiffness, the rigidity, the disease I carry with me. It’s in the dust. Go show yourselves to the priest. Because the priest has to say the words. You are clean. Just go do that. And they begin to run. But lepers can’t run. But they are no longer lepers are they? All ten of them are healed, but Eli stops. It makes sense why the other nine don’t stop. If I had leprosy and somebody healed me, I’d run to the priest before it came back. But what about this guy who stops and turns and says, “I have to go thank him. I’ll get to the priest, but this man has given me my life back. I get to go home to Rachel and my boys, to sleep in my bed; to take a bath; to eat at my table. This man has done that for me. I may never see him again. I will not miss that opportunity.” What about that guy>
Luke tells us that he comes back praising God with a loud voice. If Christ has touched our lives, sometimes we’ve gotta getta a little loud and out of order. That’s why Luke gives us this information about the loud voice. It’s important. Then Luke adds one last tidbit. This man was a Samaritan. In other words, everything was wrong about this man. He was a Samaritan. Everybody hates them. He was a leper. No one wants to touch them. And here he is laying down in the main road before God and everybody, speechless, prostrate before Jesus’ feet. And that is the proper position in life.
Whatever Eli does after he gets up is gratitude. I’m not just talking about giving. I’m talking about everything, money, life, talents, marriage, children, business, career, everything. You think that guy went home and left a selfish life? No way. I know he’s made up. But no way could he do it. No way. He went home and he lived a grateful life. Everything about him was grateful. He never took anything else for granted again. He never looked at a leper in the same way again. He was changed. And Jesus did that.
Now we may never have leprosy. In fact, we won’t. But every person in this room, every person in this city, is unclean. All of us need healing. All of us need to be touched somewhere because of something in us that is alienated from God, that is broken and sick, that needs to be healed, something that keeps us from the table; something that keeps us from really being home; something in us that is like leprosy. Many of us will never experience this sort of instantaneous, miraculous healing but every one of us were instantaneously healed at the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus has given our lives back. There is only one motive for being a Christian. It’s not duty, and it’s sure not guilt. It’s gratitude. That’s your life. Gratitude is everything you are. It’s gratitude for this grace that has stopped on the main road for you, for you. Gratitude. Go show yourselves to the priests. You are healed.