Dear Readers,

Text: Luke 17:11-19

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “When you drink the water, remember the source” (饮水思源). It reminds a person to be thankful for the good he has received. But we live in a “dog eats dog” society where ingratitude often abounds. This is no surprise as the Scriptures tells us that an unthankful spirit is characteristic of an unregenerate heart (Romans 1:21).

On the other hand, the Bible declares that thanksgiving is a distinctive of a Christian. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 declares, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Yet how often do we lapse into a season of complain, forgetting to give thanks for the manifold blessings that we have received from the LORD!

Reason for Thanksgiving (v.11-14)

In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus was recorded as passing directly through the midst of Galilee and Samaria. This meant that Jesus was walking along the border that separates the Jews from the Samaritans.

The Samaritans were first mentioned in 2 Kings 17:29. In 722 B.C., the Northern Kingdom was totally devastated by Assyria. In order to ensure that the countries they destroyed will not rise again, the Assyrians dispersed the original inhabitants of the land into other parts of their kingdom, leaving only a small remnant from the basest men of the population. They will then plant people from other nations into the land to mingle with the remnant. Intermarriages will be formed and the unique nature of the original people will be destroyed. The same was done to Samaria. The Samaritans were thus a mixed race (Ezra 4:2). This caused them to be hated by the Jews.

Further animosity occurred between the Jews and the Samaritans during the post-exilic days. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we see how they would often seek to obstruct the work of the Jews in building the temple and the wall of Jerusalem. This discord continued all the way till the time of Jesus.

But leprosy is a great leveller, whether Jew or Samaritan. Leprosy was incurable in those days. It can cause severe deformation to body parts and destroy the nerves, so much so that the person would be unable to feel pain. Due to the horrific nature of the disease, many were afraid of contacting the disease. Lepers were thrown out of their families, and were required to call, “Leper! Leper!” as they walk in the streets. This explains why the lepers were standing at a distance from Jesus. The fact that the ten lepers were gathered together at the border of their respective lands showed that they were outcasts of their people. They have been ostracised by their people and loved ones. Both Jew and Samaritan are now gathered as a community because of a common disease!

The lepers, having seen Jesus afar off, begged for mercy. Mercy is the right term that is used here because all men deserve judgement because of their sin. However, they addressed Jesus simply as “Master”. This epistatēs differs from the usual kurios. It refers to Jesus as someone of higher status. Despite the preaching of Jesus, and the miracles which He did, they still could not see that He is the Son of God.

Having heard the plea for healing, Jesus dismissed them by commanding to show themselves to the priest. This follows the procedure in Leviticus 13-14 (see especially Leviticus 14 for “the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing”). The implication is that they are now healed and they are to go through the cleansing process by presenting their offerings.

Expression of Thanksgiving (v.15-16)

As the lepers went their way, they discovered that they were cleansed completely of their disease. However the Scripture records that only one of them returned to give thanks for his healing. Nothing was said about the other nine lepers. The silence of the text hints that they just took their healing for granted and went their way.

On the other hand, we are told of the exceeding exuberance of the Samaritan leper. He not only praised God for his healing, but also did so with a loud voice. He was truly thankful from being cleansed of the disease. He purposefully made his way back to Jesus, and prostrated himself at the feet of Jesus. This is the highest expression of honour and gratitude that one can give. His understanding of the extent of his deliverance led to enthusiastic thanking of the Messiah. What about us?

It is interesting to note how the text relates “giving God the glory” with the Samaritan thanking the Lord Jesus Christ. First, it tells us how thanks directed to God glorifies Him. Second, it also tells us how the Samaritan sees Jesus as not only just an epistatēs, but rather the Son of God Himself! He now understands that Jesus is not only 100% man but 100% God. The faith of the Samaritan directed him to look beyond the miracle to the person of Christ. “The character of true thanksgiving sees beyond the things to the one whose grace has made all things pertaining to life and godliness possible.” (Ryrie)

The Blessing of Thanksgiving (v.17-19)

What irony it is that Jesus’ own countrymen failed to return to thank Him. They also failed to recognise that Jesus was the Son of God, the very embodiment of God’s grace. Yet this Samaritan who was usually hostile to the Jews is now thanking the Jewish Messiah!

The Samaritan was blessed because of His thanksgiving. He was told that his faith (as evidenced by his thanksgiving) had made him “whole”. This term “whole” is not from the usual terms of healing (i.e. therapeuō where we get the English “therapy”, or iaomai) but sōzō which means “to save”. The implication here is that not only is the Samaritan healed physically from his leprosy, but also saved thoroughly from his sins. The thanksgiving of the Samaritan resulted in him being personally assured by the Lord Jesus Christ concerning his salvation.


The nine lepers were saved out of a hopeless situation and failed to give thanks. What about us who are redeemed? Have we not been saved from the hopeless state of sin, and was delivered by Christ out of darkness into His marvellous light? We should all the more so have cause to be grateful. As the Christian gives thanks, there would be greater understanding of his dependence upon the Lord. He would be humbled before God and faith in Him would be deepened. This is the blessing and reward of thanksgiving.

The Bible tells us that the last days would be characterised by unthankful people (c.f. 2 Timothy 3:2). On the other hand, thankfulness towards God is the distinctive of the Christian. Let us therefore learn to be thankful and not thankless people. Amen.

Pr Clement Chew