This month we are learning more about Jesus and ourselves by looking at different encounters that Jesus had with people. Last week, we saw how Jesus was kind when he reached out to Zacchaeus, who was a tax collector. When everyone else wanted to keep Zacchaeus away from themselves, and away from Jesus, Jesus reached out to him, and in kindness Jesus offered him salvation and life. That kindness changed Zacchaeus and made him kind in return. I hope this past week you have been looking for ways to be kind to others in response to the kindness of Jesus. Today’s encounter builds on that kindness, and challenges us to take another step forward in our own kindness.
The encounter we are going to look at today comes from Luke 17:11-19. To really see the kindness of Jesus in this story, we need to understand a little bit about leprosy. There were 72 different skin diseases that were lumped together as leprosy, and while some of these might have been as simple as a rash, others may have been much more serious, contagious, and deadly. It was the job of the priests to examine the skin disease to see if the person should be considered clean or unclean.
If a skin disease was serious, and the priest thought it was contagious, then the person was considered unclean and had to leave their home and community. These lepers were either forced to live alone, or among others who were sick. While this sounds harsh to us today, it was really for the health and well-being of the entire community. If a skin disease was highly contagious, it would spread quickly through a community leading to wide scale death, so the person had to be isolated for the good of the people, but for the person with the disease, the separation from family and the community was devastating.
Lepers not only had to make it clear to others that they were sick by how they dressed, but they also had to cry out that they were unclean. Can you imagine the shame that lepers must have felt? And because they couldn’t work or interact with others they suffered from poverty, hunger and sickness. It was a horrible life.
It is hard for us to imagine what this must have been like, but it wasn’t that long ago that we witnessed a modern day version of this exact situation. The Ebola crisis in West Africa showed us what this might look and feel like in today’s world. In places like Sierra Leone, when someone got sick, they had to be isolated until they could be sure that the person either had or didn’t have Ebola. Until people knew for sure, everyone would live in fear of that person and they would truly be cast out of the community, forced to live in fear and isolation. The sick person often had to live in a holding area until tests could be run, and even if it wasn’t Ebola, since they were isolated in areas close to where the victims of Ebola were housed, their chances of getting the disease increased.
Just like with leprosy, those who had Ebola were forced out of homes, villages, and communities, and the only human contact they had was with others who were sick and dying. They were forced into a life of pain, poverty, isolation, and desperation. Lepers were truly desperate, so if there was any chance they might be healed, they would grab hold of it. If there was anyone who might be able to help them, they would reach out to them, so when these lepers heard that Jesus was in the area, they cried out to him for help.
It is interesting to note that these lepers, living in isolation from others, both knew that Jesus was in the area, and that Jesus was someone who might be able to help them. It shows us just how far and wide the message of Jesus had spread in a few short years. That a group of lepers living along the border of Samaria, an area where Jews often did not travel, had heard that Jesus had unparalleled power to heal, tells us just how many people were talking about Jesus. Without any media, or social media, Jesus was a superstar, everyone knew about him, and those who were truly desperate for hope, healing, and life, went to great lengths to reach out to him for help.
When these 10 lepers heard that Jesus was in the area, they cried out to him for mercy. They followed the law of the day and kept their distance, probably yelling with their mouths covered as was commanded in the law, but Jesus knew their situation, and he was touched by their faith. When many people doubted everything about Jesus, they believed he could do something to help them. In kindness, Jesus told them to go to the priests, the only ones who could pronounce them clean and healed, so that they could return to their lives, and it says that as they went, in other words, they listened and obeyed, and were healed. We see once again, it is the kindness of Jesus that brings healing and new life for these 10 desperate men.
So once again, Jesus is kind. Jesus not only has the power to love and forgive as we saw last week, but he has the power to heal and restore life. Jesus has the power to do great things in our lives. Sometimes it is to heal, sometimes it is to restore us in relationships, and sometimes it is to give us hope. That’s what we learn about Jesus, but what do we learn about ourselves; after all, we aren’t lepers. Even if we have been diagnosed with a rash, poison ivy, eczema, or shingles, we aren’t forced into isolation and desperation. While we may not be physically sick, in what ways are we like these lepers?
It used to be that all disease was seen as some kind of curse from God. If you got leprosy, it was because you had sinned in some way and this God’s punishment. While that idea changed, and Jesus made clear that disease was not a punishment for sin, many people still did not see things that way. So when these 10 lepers cried out for mercy, many around them saw 10 sinners reaching out to God for help.
Can you image what it would be like if we were forced to wear our sins on the outside of our lives? Lepers had to walk around with messed up hair and torn clothes so that everyone knew to stay away from them because they were unclean. What if we had to walk around wearing shirts that detailed our sins: Gluttony, Lust, Greed, Pride, Sloth, Wrath, Envy. Would we be willing to cry out to Jesus to have mercy on us? Would we risk more ridicule, more dead ends, and maybe hearing Jesus say no? Can you imagine saying,
For our pride and indifference, Jesus Master, have mercy on us.
For our lust and greed and envy, Jesus Master, have mercy on us.
For our materialism, gossiping hearts, and divisive, destructive language, Jesus Master, have mercy on us.
We are not that different from these isolated and unclean men. We too are in need of mercy, and each time we cry out to God to forgive us, each time we ask Jesus for help, he gives it. It is Jesus who makes us clean. It is Jesus who lifts us out of shame, washes clean our conscience, and helps us walk into new life. This is Jesus, kind, forgiving, healing and powerful.
What about us? What is our response? Not only do we need to learn how to be kind to others, but we also need to learn how to be grateful. Of the 10 lepers who were healed, only one returned to Jesus to say thank you. While all the lepers may have been good people, grateful for the healing and new life Jesus provided, there was just one who stopped to say thank you. From this leper we need to learn how to stop and say thank you.
We need to learn what it means to really stop and say thank you to God. Each morning we need to stop and say, thank you God for another day. Each evening we need to stop and thank God for that day and for the opportunity to rest. Each meal we need to stop and thank God for food. Each moment we go out, we need to thank God for the beauty of the world, and each time we come home we need to thank God for family and friends that strengthen us and give us peace. Each week we need to stop and set aside time for worship, and lift our hearts and lives and voices above all the things in this world and with others say thank you. How we spend our money can be an expression of saying thank you to God and others. Giving to others, helping those in need, walking for those who are hungry, putting buckets together for those who have been flooded out, are all ways we can stop and say thank you.
I want to invite you this week, to find one way you can stop and say thank you to God each day. I want to invite you to write it down so that these practices can be repeated and incorporated into your daily return. Too often we are like the 9 lepers, who were thankful, but just never said anything. We need to make sure we stop and say something to God.
I also want us to look at the last sentence again Then Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Does Jesus mean that the other 9 weren’t healed? I don’t think so, remember, Jesus is kind, and faithful. Jesus is true to his word, so when he offers healing, it comes. What we need to learn from this verse is that when we stop, and say thank you, when we practice gratitude, our lives are made whole. Studies show that we are happier when we are grateful. Being able to see all the good things we have in life, and truly being grateful, improves our mental health, physical strength, and spiritual outlook. The way for us to go forward, and to be well, is to learn how to stop and give thanks. It doesn’t always come naturally, but it is a habit we can learn and practice and develop in our lives.
The kindness of Jesus forgives us, and the kindness of Jesus heals us. It can heal us in body, mind and spirit. Every encounter with Jesus is an opportunity for healing, and restoration. Every encounter with Jesus is also a reminder that we need to stop, return to God, and learn to say thank you. Every encounter with Jesus is an opportunity for us to practice gratitude, and it is a life of gratitude that truly makes us whole.
Jesus and Me – Saying Thank You
1. Can you identify a time when you felt isolated or alone due to a physical, spiritual, or emotional sickness?
• How did this impact your relationships with family and friends?
• How did this impact your relationship with God?
2. Read Luke 17:11-19.
3. What would it be like if you had to wear your sins on the outside, or printed on a t-shirt? Would you be willing to publically cry out to God for mercy?
4. Name some of the sins that Jesus has forgiven in your life. How many times have you stopped to say thank you? When was the last time you specifically said thank you to God?
5. Take time each day this week to stop and say thank you to God for his healing, forgiveness, grace and mercy. Identify exactly what it is you are giving thanks for each day.
6. Practice gratitude this week by sending a note of thanks and appreciation to one person who has blessed you.