“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?’”  (Luke 17:17)


It must be time for Thanksgiving. All indications suggest that it is: shoppers congregate in the supermarket loading up their carts with turkeys, dinner rolls, and vegetables. Both the school and work weeks have been shortened. Most of the leaves have blown off the trees except for a few holdouts. Nevertheless, I can always tell that it is Thanksgiving because the assigned Gospel reading is Luke 17:11-19. It is a simple story about ten lepers healed by Jesus.

The ten lepers played by the rules, “they stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us’” (Luke 17:12-13). Jesus commended them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests’” (Luke 17:14,) and obediently they went. The plot thickens when the gospel writer’s states:

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him— and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other Nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God expect this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:15-19).


Typically, I assume that only one of the lepers was thankful for the healing Jesus had given. The flipside is that I usually condemn the other nine labeling them “ungrateful” for the healing that came from Jesus. However, this year I am rethinking my traditional approach to this familiar story.


In his book, They Way of the Wolf Martin Bell imaginatively and beautifully wonders “What about the others?” The Scripture its self is silent, however Bell provides nine plausible reasons for the no-show of the nine lepers:

  • One of them was frightened—that’s all. He didn’t understand what had happened, and it frightened him. So he looked for some place to hide. Jesus scared him.
  • A second was offended because he had not been required to do something difficult before he could be healed. It was too easy…And so Jesus offended him.
  • The third had realized too late that he had not really wanted to be cleansed. That he did not know what to do or how to live or even who he was without his leprosy…Jesus had taken away his identity.
  • The fourth leper did not return because in his delirium of joy, he forgot. That’s all. He was so happy that he forgot.
  • The fifth leper was unable to say thank you to anymore to anybody. There is something that happens to a man who must beg and who is shunned by his fellows…He just doesn’t say thank you anymore to anybody—not even to Jesus.
  • The sixth leper was a woman—a mother who had been separated from her family for eleven years because of her leprosy. She did not return to give thanks because she was hurrying home…She had been freed by Jesus.
  • The seventh just didn’t believe that Jesus had anything to do with the cleansing. He knew that healing had taken place, but why and how were the questions… He didn’t return to give thanks because Jesus had had nothing to do with the healing event.
  • The eight leper did not return precisely because he did believe that Jesus had healed him—that the Kingdom of God was here and the Messiah had arrived… And so he ran to publish the news.
  • The ninth leper why didn’t he return? I don’t know the answer… All I know is that he showed himself to the priest and immediately was cleansed. He then stood still for a moment and smiled. It is impossible to say precisely why he did not return to give thanks.


As, I pondered each of these possible responses of the nine lepers, I found myself slipping in and out of each of the characters thinking, “That sounds like something I think or do.” All of these years, I have been impressed by and admired the one leper who returned to thank Jesus; failing to see that in reality I’m more aligned with the nine who didn’t return. In Jesus’s question to the returnee he asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine” (Luke 17:17)? Now, I am able to say with a grateful heart, “Lord, I’m over here!”


This Thanksgiving, whether you have fallen at Jesus’ feet in praise and wonderment or express your gratefulness to Jesus’ gift of life and healing in ways that might at first glance seem less obvious; know that the Jesus who asks, “Where are the other nine” (Luke 17:17) does in fact know where were they are. In fact, Bell says, “He knew all along.” My prayer is this Thanksgiving your life will be touched by the grace of Christ and your heart full of gratitude.



Pastor Nick

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