Where are the other 9?
“Then Jesus said, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Didn’t any return to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
‒ Luke 17:17-18
This particular Bible passage has fascinated me for quite a long time. The setting for the story is the border of Samaria and Galilee. This is important, as we see a mixed group of men suffering from leprosy. This goes completely against the doctrine at that time that Jews did not associate with Samaritans. However, the disease of leprosy knew no ethnic boundaries. All of these men were ostracized from their own people, came together, and suffered together due to their disease. They even spoke to Jesus from a distance, realizing their ceremonial uncleanliness, yet begging Christ for healing. And so Jesus heals them from a distance, as the men walk to show themselves to the priests.
Yet one of the lepers never made it to the priests. He returned to Jesus, thanking him for his healing. And Jesus commends him for this action of gratitude. But what happened to the other nine lepers? Perhaps some of the other nine ran back home to their families. They had been separated from their families, perhaps for years, so it’s reasonable to think they were homesick and also wanted to share the good news of healing with their loved ones. And so the family might have been a roadblock to thanksgiving.
As we approach Thanksgiving in America, we often make the holiday all about family, travel, and enjoying a big meal together. However, we sometimes lose sight of its real meaning.
Likewise, some of the lepers might have returned to their jobs ‒ perhaps farming, raising animals, or fishing. In the same way, Americans are getting busier and busier at our jobs. We’re working longer hours with more demands placed upon us. This too can be a roadblock to thanksgiving. This year, we might take some time from our busy schedules to reflect on God’s goodness and give thanks for the Lord’s blessings.
Finally, some of the lepers might have been tied up in religious ritual. Recall that Jesus said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” (Luke 17:14) If those lepers, who were Jews, actually followed Christ’s command, they would’ve been subjected to an eight-day ceremony of purification (Leviticus 14:1-32). It seems religiosity and ritual can also be stumbling blocks to thanksgiving!
However, true religion is found in the heart of the sole Samaritan leper. He returned to Jesus, fell face-down at his feet, and thanked him. The passage concludes with Jesus saying, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.” When I read this passage, I think, “But wait! Didn’t all ten lepers receive healing? Why then does Jesus say, ‘Your faith has made you well?’”
Then it dawned on me. It is true that all ten lepers received physical healing. But only one leper received spiritual healing ‒ the one who returned to thank Jesus. This Thanksgiving, may we strive to be the tenth leper.
Suthee Thumasathit is a Thailand native who grew up in Iowa and now practices internal medicine for Texas Health Resources. He is a leader in NorthPark's Thai Fellowship and current NorthPark Presbyterian ruling elder.