They were grouped together like they had no meaning. They were categorized and set aside – to be avoided at all costs. From the beginning, they were labeled. The things they were called, among many, were diseased, disgusting, deformed, unclean, destroyed, forgotten. They had something that separated them physically from everyone else – and the community never failed to remind them of that. They were the unseen, the excluded. Keep them at a distance and all is better for it. That was the norm until Jesus. He saw differently. He saw humanity, God’s beloved, the created and adored. He saw so much more. He had not lumped them together into some group to avoid. He reached out – literally – where no one dared to reach. He loved where no one dared to love. He restored where all had been taken away.
Jesus probably shouldn’t have been in this part of town. No one who was holy would have dared such a thing. He risked being exposed. If he was exposed to the things which would make him unclean, how could he function in his role of priest and prophet? He couldn’t even enter the temple. That was where he belonged, in the church, not out in the streets among these people. And yet, in his predictable unpredictability he wanders to places he should not have been. It’s like he doesn’t know the rules of the religious – or maybe just doesn’t care.
In this part of town, he risks being too close to those people – you know, the people who were nasty and gross. They weren’t the same. They were invaluable, separated because of being unworthy to live with everyone else. And that’s what happened – see, if Jesus had stayed where he should, he wouldn’t have risked being in any proximity to them. And here they were, hollering to the top of their lungs for mercy. Have mercy, that had to be embarrassing. It was a shame that someone as holy as Jesus would have to be exposed to such low life. And yet Jesus doesn’t see it this way at all. He doesn’t see their diseases. He doesn’t smell their poverty. He hears their cries. These are his people – even though at least one of them is from a different group. You heard that right – one of the people hollering is not like the others. He not only has been excluded by the fear of others, he has been thrown into a group which he would not belong on any normal basis. I guess they figured that when you are excluded and unworthy – you might as well throw them all in the same barrel together. But again, they were Jesus’ people. So Jesus sees them – and he does something about it.
11 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.”
Healing can bring on many different reactions. It can evoke deep cleansing tears of a life that has been restored. It can open many doors of joy and elation about what can be one more time. Healing can make us want to jump right back into the life that had been snatched away like a thief in the night. It can make us want to get on with life so quickly so we forget where we once were.
Up until this point, this group had been ripped away from their families and thrown into exclusion. They had lost all they once held so dear. They had not touched or hugged their loved ones in so very long. The idea of embracing anyone else had been so far from their minds that this would be a welcome reunion for the ages. Why would anyone delay such a reunion? Why would you want to put off what they thought would never happen? Life has been restored. Life that had been ripped away had been handed back in an act of love that no one could have imagined. Why wouldn’t we all run to our loved ones in such joy that all else faded behind? It seems perfectly reasonable to me.
But there was one who thought differently. That mercy he has so shouted for, longed for, begged for, and dreamed about had come true. That mercy he had all but given up on had been given. It had been given in such a big dose that he did what came natural to him. He ran back as fast as he could. His feet had been restored so he ran. He was out of breath, panting as he fell on his face just to say thank you. It was more than words. It was an expression of everything he had long held inside. It was a genuine gratitude for a transformation no one could have seen coming. He could not run to his family before he ran to the Mercy Giver. His life could not begin until he had turned back to give thanks for a life that would never be again. To say this was life changing would have been the ultimate understatement. Mercy had restored a hope, a future, and a joy that no one could quite explain. So he ran back to the Giver of Mercy before moving forward with his new life. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Jesus asks an interesting question – not of the man – but of the whole situation. He is not asking this man what happened to the rest. Jesus just kind of throws it out there. He states the obvious. He mentions what others may have sensed. All of them had been healed but one returns. And the one who returns isn’t even the expected one. The one who really shows the most gratefulness for his restoration is the one who was not a Jew. He was already the excluded, even in his regular life. He was already held separate by the Jews – at arms length – avoided. He was already among the undesirable. He had just sunk to the lowest of lows. And here he is, returning. Maybe his restoration was even more beautiful because a Jewish leader had seen him, recognized his value, and provided mercy. Maybe he was so overwhelmed with thankfulness that gratitude seemed the only answer. The others didn’t return – they went on with their new life – their healed life. They went forward. This man did too, but not without first giving thanks. And a bonus – he was healed from the inside out. His restoration was more than could meet the eye. Sure his skin was restored, but so was his heart, his hope, and his joy. He had been given more than he ever lost. Jesus saw a beloved. And Jesus provided mercy.
Our lives may look quite different if our gratitude brought us to the feet of the Giver of Mercy. We may find ourselves not being able to move forward without first bowing to the One who chose to restore. Gratitude may come as a natural response to opportunity for a life we didn’t even know was possible. Gratitude is more than the simple exclamation of thank you. It is a life lived knowing that the change was due to the great Giver of Mercy. May we live in gratitude.