Giving Thanks Like a Samaritan: Luke 17:11-19

St. Luke wants you to be bowled over by the man who came back to thank Jesus.  Ten lepers approached Jesus.  Ten lepers cried out with a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  They all wanted healing.  And Jesus was compassionate and merciful.  He said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests!”  And as they went, they were healed.

So, Jesus healed 10 people.  But you’re supposed to notice the one who came back.  He’s different.  Unlike the others, he came back when he noticed that Jesus had healed him.  Only he fell down before Jesus and thanked Him.

Was it because Jesus physically healed him that this one man returned?  Yes, but it was much more than that!  He was different from the other lepers.  After all, he came back to Jesus in faith.

But the one who came back was a Samaritan.  The one who wasn’t supposed to have faith did!  The ones who were supposed to didn’t.  So Jesus asked, “Ten men were made clean, weren’t they?  Where are the other nine?  Didn’t any return to praise God except this foreigner?”

I suppose we can look around tonight and ask, “Where are the other nine?”  We can ask, “Haven’t others also received the same generous gifts from God that we have received?  Shouldn’t they be packing themselves into church to thank God, especially during this time of national thanksgiving?  Why is it that only we have gathered to thank and praise God for all that He has done?”

But we’re not Jesus.  We have sinful hearts that leap to sinful conclusions.  That’s why it benefits us little to ask, “Where are the other nine?”  For then we would start to think of ourselves as more worthy than others.

That’s what our sinful, corrupted human nature does.  That’s why deep down–or not so deep down–none of us can resist the chance to pat ourselves on the back.  We love to congratulate ourselves about the magnificent deeds we do.

We would even be arrogant enough to take credit for when we thank and praise God.  Imagine that!  Yes, leave it to us to turn something about God into something about us.  Yet, it happens all too often in churches all around our country.

So, on this Thanksgiving Eve, we place ourselves in the Samaritan’s shoes.  So don’t fixate that only he returned to thank and praise God while the others went their merry way.  Instead, notice that he is a Samaritan, a foreigner.  It is as Jesus said, “Didn’t any return to praise God except this foreigner?”

This is the truth: Like a Samaritan in Israel, faith-filled thanksgiving is something foreign.  That’s why our parents had to teach us to say thank you, even when we didn’t feel that way or want to say it.  In our sinful, native condition, in our nature inherited from Adam, we lack natural, inborn, faith-filled thankfulness.  We lack it because we lack faith.

Our inherited sin from Adam isn’t simply some blemish on our human nature.  It’s a corruption so deep that nothing sinless has survived intact, in body or soul (FC, Ep I, 8).  When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God didn’t cause a near-dead, spiritual ember within us to glow with life.  No, He had to speak spiritual life within us where only sin and death once reigned.

Apart from Christ, our sinful, human nature robs us of any ability to thank and praise the true God.  Our sinful nature is like a wet blanket on a fire.  It’s like a nail that has punctured a tire.  It removes the true life within each of us.  When we realize that, the astounding truth is not that someone returned to thank Jesus; it’s that someone returned to thank Him at all!

“But one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, came back and praised God with a loud voice.  He fell facedown at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.  Now he was a Samaritan.”  Rejoice that you can rejoice, praise God that you can praise Him, and give thanks that you are thankful!

Speak, knowing that God has opened your lips, so your mouth may proclaim His praise (Psalm 51:15).  Such faithful expressions are not native to our sinful natures.  They are foreign to us.  Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ day, this same God also gives you a faith-filled, thankful heart.  This same God also gives you reason to “thank and praise, and serve and obey Him” (Small Catechism, Explanation to the 1st Article).

Our Gospel reading shows us a God whose generosity knows no bounds.  First, we see Jesus heal ten men.  This shows Jesus to be the God of creation, someone who is one with the Father who gives you “everything [you] need to support this body and life” (Small Catechism, Explanation to the 1st Article).

Then, Jesus shows Himself to be God the Redeemer.  Jesus’ miracle proclaims to the Samaritan–and us–that “there is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12).  Only Jesus can heal.  Only Jesus can save.

Jesus also shows Himself to be the God who creates faith in our hearts.  He is unified with the Holy Spirit, the giver of life and faith.  By the miracle of faith, the man came back to thank and praise Jesus for what He had done.

That’s why faith goes where Jesus is.  Faith seeks Jesus where He promises to be.  Faith seeks Jesus to thank and praise Him.  That’s why the one leper came back when the other nine went their own way.  The other nine had the opposite of saving faith.  They went their own way, doing their own thing.

Only by the gift of faith are we also like the Samaritan.  By the gift of faith, we also return this evening to thank Jesus for what He has done.  That’s because true, heartfelt praise, thanks, and rejoicing to God don’t originate from within us.  They are faith-filled acts, worked in us by God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit.  They come from God, who creates such fruits of faith within us through His loving generosity.

Yet, what happened after the Samaritan came back to thank and praise Jesus?  The One who is praised then becomes the One who praises.  Jesus then praises the Samaritan foreigner for his faith–even though Jesus was the One who gave it to him!  Jesus told him, “Get up and go.  Your faith has made you well.”  That’s how Jesus is.  He piles His gifts, one on top of the other.

That’s the essence of the Gospel.  That’s the essence of our Thanksgiving celebrations.  That’s because our faith-filled thankfulness is something that God even gives to us.  Like a Samaritan in Israel, our faith-filled thanks are foreign to our sinful nature.  They, too, are miracles that God has worked within us!

And like the Samaritan, Jesus has also healed us of our spiritual leprosy.  Yes, like the Samaritan, we have come back for more Jesus.  So, how can we not be thankful?  For God continues to do much more than put clothes on our backs and food in our mouths.  He has also given us the gift of faith!

This God-given faith grasps Jesus’ promises of forgiveness and salvation.  This faith allows us to see Jesus for who He is–the Savior sent to us from heaven.  This faith even creates our thankfulness and gives voice to our praise, even on this Thanksgiving Eve.  That’s why Jesus also says to you, “Your faith has made you well.”  Amen.



  1. Mary Johnson says

    Just a question, didn’t the one who came back also become whole? The other 9 were healed, but to the 10th He said: “And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Sozo).

    In leprosy, you have not only the disfigurement of the skin, but as it progresses you lose fingers, toes, nose, ears etc… I take it to mean that by coming back and giving praise to God as he did, the Lord blessed him one step futher by making him complete again, restoring what was lost. Am I right in this thought?

    • Mary,

      Yes, you’ve got it! The Samaritan was more than physically healed. He also was spiritually healed. Jesus noted that by saying, “Your faith has made you well.” And on the whole, that was the greater of the two healings.