Luke 17:11-19
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 27, 2019

A radio personality named Paul Harvey used to do a regular feature called “And now for the rest of the story!”

I’d love to hear the rest of the story of the Samaritan ex-leper. For while, in the part of his story we just heard, he ends up very happy, I think he got even happier after the events of that day. For that day he just began to reap the rewards of three keys to happiness.

Once Jesus was travelling through a bicultural region inhabited by both Jews and Samaritans, two groups that didn’t get along at all and hadn’t for centuries.

Among them were people of both ethnicities who had suffered the same rejection and thus bonded together for mutual support. In that day, no group was more rejected than lepers. There were both Jewish and Samaritan lepers, and ten of them formed a fellowship.

Leprosy was a highly infectious and greatly feared disease. Thus lepers were the most ostracized of people. Laws prohibited them from getting anywhere near healthy people. This ten-member band of lepers had, however, apparently heard about Jesus and His miracle-working powers. So, if only out of a desperation born of their marginalization, they cried out to Him to “have mercy” on them.

Jesus replied to their cry by commanding them to do something that they might suspect to be a cruel, mocking hoax of an assignment. Jesus told them to go show themselves to their local priests, something lepers would only do if they thought they had been healed of their disease. To be cleared to rejoin mainstream society, they had to have a priest certify their healing, and officially release them from the status of being outcastes.

Amazingly, all ten of the lepers obeyed Jesus’ seemingly absurd command, when none could rule out the possibility that He was playing with them and sending them on a fool’s errand. After all, they could look at themselves and each other, and see that no one was any different. Yet, all ten must have hoped that, if not a healing, something good would result from their obeying Jesus – or they wouldn’t have embarked on what could end up a wild goose chase.

From scripture and experience, the wise among us know that obeying Jesus and hoping in Him are keys to obtaining happiness. All ten of these lepers showed obedience and hope as they set out to submit to a priestly examination. And, sure enough, they were rewarded, with great happiness, for on the way they suddenly found themselves with clean skin and flesh.

But only one of them took hold of a third key to happiness: gratitude. This Samaritan immediately reversed direction, returned to Jesus, prostrated himself at His feet, and thanked Him. After remarking that none the other nine had done the same, Jesus celebrated that the grateful leper was now “made well” and ready to be on his way – on his way, I think, to even greater happiness from what was begun then with Jesus. A gift can be relished apart from its giver, but gratitude links the gift and the giver – and in this case the Giver is Himself the biggest gift of all.

In other words, while obedience and hope bring their own rewards, gratitude brings a further reward and a better one. For saying thank-you requires interacting with the giver, and that interaction creates the possibility of generating a rewarding relationship.

No doubt, the other nine lepers rejoiced in their gift of healing; but, because they didn’t thank Jesus, they missed out on the greater joy that the Samaritan had just then started to experience: a friendship with the Healer Himself, the best Friend one could ever have.

Yes, any of us can enjoy a blessing all by ourselves, but giving thanks is inherently social and it can bring about an interpersonal reward. For saying thank-you creates a special exchange between the blessed and the bless-er (that is, the giver who may turn out to be a bigger blessing than his or her gift!)

By his faith – expressed in obedience, hope and gratitude – the Samaritan was not just saved from a disease, but saved in the fullest sense of the word. For he was connecting with the Savior who is also the ultimate Source of every good gift.

In contrast, the nine – who had received a gift from Jesus’ hand but not bothered to return to Him to express their appreciation – lost out on making a connection with the most life-enhancing and happiness-inducing Person that has ever walked the earth.

I believe that the rest of the story is that the Samaritan ended up the happiest leper of them all! For the principle always applies: Every blessing becomes bigger and better when it is recognized to be a gift, and every gift becomes greater still when it is recognized to be a gift from the hand of Someone as great as this Giver, this Lover who owes us nothing but gladly gives us everything, including a lifelong friendship with Him stretching into eternity.

Many blessings we can touch and see with our eyes. The warmth of a soft bed on a cold rainy night, the smiles of friends chuckling over dinner, the brightness in a child’s eyes awed at the sight of Christmas lights, the comforting substance of sweet bread and the rich purple grapes at Communion – these are all blessings we can touch and see. But, when received with gratitude, they all become blessings that connect us with the greater Blessing behind them, the Giver whom we cannot touch or see, but whom we can experience in the deepest part of us, to our abundant and everlasting happiness!

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