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90 Percent of All Lepers

By Calvin Miller | Contributing Editor of Preaching and Research Professor of Divinity and Writer in Residence at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama.

Sermon: Thanksgiving

Luke 17:12-19

Bill Griffin tells the story of the leper in Mark 1:40 this way:

"'Hello, I'm a leper!' A man popped out from behind a building and stood right in front of Jesus. 'Please don't run away, Jesus!'

"'What's the matter with your skin?' asked Jesus.

"'Can't You see I'm covered with runny sores and crusty scabs?' No one wants to look at me, my face is so horrible.'

"'What do you want Me to do?'

"'You can make me better. I know You can,' said the man, falling on his knees in front of Jesus. 'If You don't, I'll scratch myself to death.'

"Jesus felt sorry for the poor man.

"'Don't touch me,' said the man. 'That's how you get it.'

"'I'm not afraid to touch you.' Jesus reached down and took hold of the man's arms and pulled him to his feet. The itching was gone. The sores started to dry. The scabs began to fall off.

"'Thank You, thank You, thank You!' shouted the man. 'What can I do to thank You?'

"'You can go to the temple, show yourself to a priest and say a prayer of thanks to God.'

"'Yes, yes; I will, I will!' promised the man hurrying off.

"'One more thing,' said Jesus.

"'Anything, anything,' said the man.

"'You don't have to tell anyone what I just did.'

"'I won't tell a soul,' said the man as he skipped toward Jerusalem; but the man was so happy and the walk to the temple was so long that he forgot and told everyone he met. Then all the other lepers along the road began to look for the wonderful Man with the healing touch." (Calvin Miller, The Family Book of Jesus, Bethany House, 2002.)

The story well told of the gratitude of good lepers. Good lepers are those who are healed and never forget the disease they once had. They remember how good clean feels. Bad lepers, on the other hand, are those who are healed and go on acting as if they never had the disease.

Ninety percent of all the lepers in Luke 17 are ingrates—bad lepers pretending they never met Jesus. What a shame! They were so completely healed that there was not a smidgen of their former state of decay left to them. They were so healed, they headed back to the social centers of their communities. These pretenders were free to run for office—any office they might imagine. They were free to return to their former bridge clubs, Kiwanis clubs, golf clubs. Their once former scourge-word-confession, "Unclean!" had been replaced by, "Give me five!" The untouchables were now the embraceables. The infected had become the respected. The isolated tomb-dwellers had become the officers at Toastmasters.

However, for all the joy of their cleansing, we never would have known about them at all, except for the 10 percent of their group who knew the art of gratitude. One of the 10: "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 a most perplexing question: 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to give praise to God except this foreigner?'" (Luke 17:15-18).

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