Saturday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Luke 17:11-19

It Was the Foreigner Who Praised God

As odd as it may sound, sometimes unbelievers and pagans outdo followers of Christ in rendering praise to God.  I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us; after all, the seas roar, the rivers clap their hands, and the hills sing for joy before the Lord (Psalm 98:7-9).  God has created man in His own image, so that even those who hate Him must acknowledge Him when they pause and think on eternal matters, which such rational beings must do from time to time, even if through darkened minds. But still, it shouldn’t be this way.

Today’s passage records the healing of ten lepers.  We know the plight of these poor creatures in ancient times: segregated to live by themselves, pelted with rocks, and thought to be cursed by God; theirs was truly a miserable life.  And so these ten call out to Jesus from afar.  Unlike a previous leper who took courage to approach Jesus (5:12-14), these keep their distance.  Perhaps they did so out of humility or respect; maybe they didn’t really know how Jesus would respond to them, living with nothing but contempt all of their lives.  Or maybe their disfigurement made them ashamed and unwilling to let anyone see them.  If so, Jesus respects their dignity.  They asked that Jesus would have mercy on them.  I know of no place in the Bible where someone asks God for mercy out of a desperate and sincere heart that God did not answer.  Jesus responds, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  This was what a leper was supposed to do to show that he had been “cleansed” (Leviticus 14:1-9).  In other words, Jesus pronounced that they would be healed; in response, they were to act on faith by obeying his words to go and see the priests to prove it.  So they went away, and as they were going, they were cleansed, as Jesus said.

Then something unexpected happens.  Upon seeing that he had been healed, one of them turned back, praising God (loudly), and fell at Jesus’ feet giving thanks.  One!  It’s impossible to know what the other nine were thinking, but Jesus’ words are convicting: “Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Jesus calls him a foreigner because he was a Samaritan.  But where were the other nine?  Maybe they were so excited they wanted to get to the priest as soon as possible.  Maybe they were so overcome with joy they forgot.  Who can tell?  But it’s still shaming.  We must never let “foreigners” (in this case, unbelievers) outdo us in rendering praise to God.  This is especially the job of believers in worship and prayer every day.  Life is full of joys and sorrows, but we must never forget to render praise to God.

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