October 13, 2013 - Luke 17.11-19

“Clean; Cured; Saved”

Luke 17:11-19

October 13, 2013


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


Papillion.  Steve McQueen movie.  A leper who is smoking a cigar makes Steve McQueen smoke his cigar before he will do business with him.  McQueen takes the cigar and smokes it.  The leper laughs and says, “How did you know that I have dry leprosy and that it is not contagious?”

Steve McQueen: “I didn’t.”

This story of Jesus and the Samaritans reminds me of that scene.  Perhaps it is because I know so little of lepers.  Or because it is because McQueen is a bit like Jesus, DARING to have contact with lepers.

Today's Gospel, Jesus' healing of the ten lepers, was once the stock-in-trade of preachers on Thanksgiving. Ten lepers were healed. Only one returned to give thanks. "Where are the other nine?" the preacher would ask. "Where are the other nine?" and then would follow a sermon on the importance of thanksgiving.

But that's not what impresses me in my present reading of the story in Luke 17:11-19. Jesus is on a journey. He is on his way to Jerusalem (17:11) but he has taken an odd way there, a way that goes through the despised area called Samaria, home of the Samaritans, enemies of faithful Jews. Earlier in this Gospel, the Samaritans reject Jesus (9:51-56), probably not because he was Jesus but because he was faithfully Jewish. And out there in foreign territory Jesus meets a gang of lepers, outcasts because of their terribly disfiguring skin disease.

Jesus meets these lepers on his way into a village. But they were not actually living in the village. The Bible directed that they were to be outcasts (Lev 13:46). They probably begged and foraged at the town dump on the outskirts of the city. Then as now, we tend to put those who are terribly disfigured, those who are afflicted in body or mind, out of sight and out of mind. That's what they did with lepers. To be a leper was not only to suffer physical pain but psychological, social, and spiritual pain as well.

Cleansed (v.14)  Greek: katharizo katharizo - means “cleansed.”

Jesus saw their need and he acted.

It is important to understand lepers in their historical context.  Jesus has broken a biblical boundary. He has reached out to those social outcasts who were deemed to be untouchable. He has had compassion on those whom everyone else avoided.

Who are our lepers today?  Drug users.  Gays.  Criminals.  AIDS victims.  Perhaps people of different skin colors, foreigners, or people hindered by the size of their paycheck or lack of one.  Jesus sees their need and he acts.  He breaks his cultural taboos and risks getting infected himself.

I remember back when Rock Hudson publicly acknowledged that he had AIDS.  I remember that Doris Day appeared with him and she kissed him.  People were shocked.  Then someone in the media wondered allowed if Doris Day was putting herself at risk by kissing him.  What she did was to be there for her friend in his darkest public moment.  Being a Christian means that we have to be willing to embrace those that no one else will embrace.

Tony Campolo tells the story about the time he was walking down the streets of Philly and a guy – a really dirty guy, the kind that some would call a bum, with matted hair, grimy hands and multicolored beard from the food stains – greeted him one the street and offered him a drink of his cup of coffee.  “Hey Mister! Ya want some of my coffee?”

Even though he really didn’t, Tony said he would take a sip.

Tony said to him, “You’re getting pretty generous aren’t you?  Giving away some of your coffee?  What’s gotten into you?”

“Well, the coffee was especially good today, and I figure that if God gives you something good, you ought to share it with people.”

Tony thought he was being set up, figuring that the guy was going to hit him up for a bout $5.  “Well is there anything I can do for you?” Tony asked.

“Yeah.  You can give me a hug.”  (Tony admits that he would have rather paid this dirty man the $5.)

Then something strange happened.  As Tony embraced the man, he realized that the old guy wasn’t going to let go.  Tony began to get a little embarrassed, because here he was in his college teaching clothes, suit and tie and all, and he was hugging this dirty filthy bum as people were walking by and staring.  But slowly, his embarrassment turned to awe and reverence.  He heard a voice in his head, telling him, “I was naked, and did you clothe me?  I was hungry and did you feed me?  I was a stranger and did you welcome me?  I was the bum you met on Chestnut street, and did you hug me?”[1]

Jesus saw the need of these lepers and he cleansed them.  You know cleansing someone is an intimate act.  You cannot clean someone from far away.  If you have ever had surgery before, you have probably had a sponge bath.  You know, you and your nurse might be strangers before you get your sponge bath, but you aren’t strangers after it’s done.  Cleansing is a sacred, intimate act between Jesus and us.  He cleans us and then he tells us that we are to go into the world and cleanse the lepers.

Cured (v. 15)  Greek: iaomai iaomai – means “cured.”

The one leper sees that he has been cured and he returns to Jesus to thank him.

How embarrassing it must be for an Atheist to experience a moment of gratitude.  Who would he thank?

This leper is the ultimate outsider.  He is a Samaritan as well.

A Samaritan Leper?  Who could possibly be as unwelcome as a Samaritan Leper?  A Gay Communist Door to Door Salesman, perhaps? An Illegal Immigrant Drug Addict?  A Jehovah’s Witness Amway Selling Telemarketing Drag Queen that knows all the words to “What Does the Fox Say?” and constantly sings it to himself?

Samaritan Leper!  The model of faith turns out to be this person!

Does this mean that the other lepers were not Samaritans?  Yes.  So the ultimate outsider is the only one that is able to respond with the appropriate level of gratitude.  This is not just about getting told “thank you.”  It was good that he told Jesus thank you, but something much more important is happening here than giving thanks.

Jesus makes a point here of reproaching the other nine for not returning.  They were all healed.  But the Samaritan is the only one saved.  It is important to note that Jesus does not reject the Jewish lepers - they were healed, too.  But we are left with the distinct impression that Jesus expected more out of them.

1 in 10.  Not a good ratio.  Even in baseball.  I know of a minister/writer who has said that “in any given church, only about 30% of the people ‘get’ what the church is supposed to be about.”  If this Jesus story is any indication, perhaps that percentage is even lower.  None of us can afford to take our blessings or salvation for granted.

And maybe Jesus is making a point, not about ungrateful Samaritans these outsiders, but maybe he is making a point about us, we insiders. We have been given so much. But when you are an insider, one of the" family," you tend to expect things and what was once a gift becomes a right. And who gives thanks for their rights?

Saved (v. 19)  Greek: sozo sozo - means “to make whole, to save”

We are made aware that not all who are helped by Jesus come to faith.  There is a lot more going on here than just gratitude. This is not just about Jesus getting his due thanks or the necessary “thank you note.” The former leper is able to see beyond his newly whole body to see the one who made him whole.  He responds.  He rejoices.  He is overwhelmed.  And out of that flows his worship.

It is not enough that we simply accept Jesus’ healing.  We must realize that we have been cured and we must respond to God’s Amazing Work in us.  Lord, what a wonderful work you have done in us!

This man, this ultimate outsider is saved.  His faith has saved him.  But it all began when Jesus saw his need and had compassion on him.  Take look around you, at all the barriers that separate us from others around us.  Who builds these barriers?  We do.  And we can tear them down in the name of Jesus.

We speak of the need to convert others to Christ. Who got converted in the story of Jesus and the lepers? Was it the man who showed such gratitude to Jesus for being healed, or was it the followers of Jesus (us!) who were converted into a new understanding of the wide reach of Jesus' love?

Such a conversion can be risky. "In a culture-bound church such as most of the North American churches are, our preferred strategy for evangelism," says Walter Brueggemann, "is to invite people in, with the winking assurance that 'everything' can remain the same."[2]

Church, we insiders, what are we supposed to learn from these Samaritans, these outsiders? What is Jesus trying to teach us this day about our boundaries and his love? Who are the "untouchables" that we would be loathe to welcome into our fellowship? What have these "foreigners" to teach us? How will you follow Jesus’ example?


[1] Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You a Story, p. 29.

[2] (Walter Brueggemann, Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe, Abingdon Press, 1993, pg. 130.)

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