Text: Luke 17:11-19
Martin Luther was once asked to describe the nature of true worship. His answer: the tenth leper turning back. If, indeed, the point of worship is to offer to God our praise and gratitude for God’s goodness and compassion towards us, what better Jesus story to highlight than the story of the tenth leper. The image of the healed leper returning to the one who had cured him is a powerful reminder that our greatest response to God’s love is one of gratitude and thanksgiving. There is no debating that one of the lessons we are to take away from this story is a lesson about gratitude and offering our gratitude to God. There is also no debating that Luke also wants us to understand that there is a difference in being cleansed or cured or healed, and being made well or whole or even saved. Those are the obvious lessons of this story. Both are exemplified in the actions of the tenth leper. But I am wondering if there are there other not-so-obvious lessons we can take away from this story? Do the other nine have something to teach us as well?
Before delving too deep into the not-so-obvious lessons of the text, I want to acknowledge two things about this text that stand out to me. First is the question that Jesus asks the tenth leper when he returns to offer his praise for being healed. Jesus asks what seems to me to be a pointed, and in some ways a disingenuous, question: “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” One could argue, and rightly so, that the other nine were doing exactly what Jesus had told them to do. He had commanded the ten to follow the law—to go and show themselves to the priests. It was the only way they could be accepted and integrated back into the community. The priests were the only ones who could pronounce the lepers clean, thus giving them permission to reenter society. We have no indications in the story—no reason to believe—that they were doing otherwise. They didn’t stop by the local dive for a celebratory beer. They didn’t run home to see family first. By all indications they did exactly what Jesus told them to do. So, why the question to the tenth leper?