Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 17.11-19
Proper 23 - Year C (Time after Pentecost 28C)
(formerly: Day of Thanksgiving - Year ABC)

Other Texts:

Check out this light-hearted Thanksgiving Sermon that rhymes and this Ten Lepers presentation by MGVHoffman.


Our text ends with Jesus saying: "Rise up! Go! Your faith has saved/healed you."

Four times in the gospel of Luke Jesus declares that "faith has saved/healed you": Twice to women (7:50 = sins forgiven; 8:48 = hemorrhaging healed) and twice to men (17:19 = leprosy cleansed; 18:42 = blindness healed). In all four instances, the words are addressed to individuals. Note: sozo has as a basic meaning, "to rescue from danger and to restore to a former state of safety and well being" (Lowe & Nida). Thus it is translated with words like "save," "heal," "make whole," depending upon how the danger is understood.

In our text, the words, "Your faith has saved/healed you," are declared to only one of those who was healed. What about the other nine? What healed them? Obviously, the answer is Jesus, but it would seem that faith is not a requirement to receive healing from Jesus! It would seem that the nine received a miracle without faith.

In contrast to a common understanding that "If you just had enough faith, God would heal you," we have this story where faith is not mentioned before the healings, but comes afterwards. Did the other nine, who are not told, "Your faith has saved/healed you," suddenly have their leprosy return?

Craddock (Luke, Interpretation Commentaries) notes this and concludes: "What we have, then, is a story of ten being healed and one being saved." [p. 203] I'm not sure that I would make that distinction.

Green (The Gospel of Luke) writes about the declaration, "Your faith has saved you":

Here, something more than healing must be intended, since (1) the efficacy of faith is mentioned and (2) all ten lepers experienced cleansing. The Samaritan was not only cleansed, but on account of faith gained something more -- namely, insight into Jesus' role in the inbreaking kingdom. He is enabled to see and is thus enlightened, itself a metaphor for redemption. [p. 627]

William Bausch (The Yellow Brick Road) picks up on this idea of "seeing":

Learning to see is the key, for you see what you are. The Talmud says: "We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are." Robert Barron puts it another way:

Christianity is, above all, a way of seeing. Everything else in Christian life flows from and circles around the transformation of vision. Christians see differently, and that is why their prayer, their worship, the action, their whole way of being in the world, as a distinctive accent and flavor. What unites figures as diverse as James Joyce, Caravaggio, John Milton, the architect of Chartres, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the later Bob Dylan is a peculiar and distinctive take on things, a style, a way, which flows finally from Jesus of Nazareth.

Origen of Alexandria once remarked that holiness is seeing with the eyes of Christ. Teilhard de Chardin said with great passion that his mission as a Christian thinker was to help people see, and Thomas Aquinas said that the ultimate goal of the Christian life is a "beatific vision," an act of seeing.

As Rabbi Harold Kushner writes in his book, Who Needs God: "Religion is not primarily a set of beliefs, a collection of prayers or a series of rituals. Religion is first and foremost a way of seeing. It can't change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a differences." [p.19 & 280-1]

I think that our text relates the typical pattern of God's activities throughout scriptures -- namely, God acts first. Then our proper response to God's actions is praise and thanksgiving -- to see God's hand in what has happened.

God did not tell the Israelites in Egypt, "If you only had enough faith, I would lead you to the promised land." God led them out of slavery to Canaan.

God did not tell us, "If you only had enough faith, I would send Jesus to suffer and die for your sins." It was because we had no faith that he sent us Jesus. As Paul writes in Romans 5:8: "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."

God doesn't wait for us to have enough faith. God acts first. God's actions are to lead to a faithful response.


I think that faith as presented in this story is the response of thanksgiving (with a qualifier that I will mentioned later). One thanksgiving eve when I preached at our ecumenical service, I used the title, "What's a Christian?" My simple answer, a Christian is one who responds with thanksgiving to God.

This is supported by Paul's comment in Romans 1:21a: "for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him."

Note also that the literal meaning of "orthodoxy" is "correct praise"!

God's grace is for everyone. Jesus Christ died for everyone. But only some people respond with the proper praise and thanksgiving to God for what God's done through Jesus..

Note v. 15 in our text. The one healed leper "praises (or glorifies) God with a loud voice." Tannehill (Luke) asks, "Why is it necessary to return and praise God?" [p. 257 emphasis in original]

That's a good question. Can't God be praised everywhere? Wouldn't the priest he was traveling to see be somewhere near a worship center? Wouldn't that be the place to praise God?

Tannehill gives his comments: "Presumably God could be praised elsewhere. Yet it is assumed in the story that praising God and thanking Jesus should go together." [p. 257-8]

The place to praise God is at the feet of Jesus. Faith, beyond being a response of thanksgiving, is seeing the connection between praising God and worshiping (illustrated by falling on one's face at his feet) and thanking Jesus. However, Luke may be telling us a bit more in v. 16. The word for "thanks" is eucharisteo. This word is used four times in Luke. Twice it is used of Jesus "giving thanks" over the cup and the bread in the upper room (22:17, 19). Although it might be exegetical stretch, we might connect praising God with participating in the "eucharist" -- an act of thanksgiving in the presence of Jesus.

Related to this, I would think that it was highly possible that the other nine may have attributed their healings to God. However, they didn't make the connection between God and Jesus of Nazareth. The nine may have been praising God during their whole journey to the temple. The one saw what could only be seen through the eyes of faith -- the human Jesus is the power of God. Later, we will be asked to see and believe that the dying Jesus is the power of God.

In addition to defining faith as the response of thanksgiving, faith is also the ability to see what can't be seen -- to believe the unbelievable. The place to praise God is at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth. The place to see the power of God is at the foot of the cross with Jesus' blood dripping down.

Another addition to this image is the fact that Jesus calls the Samaritan a foreigner (allogenes) in v. 18. Although this is the only occurrence in the NT of this Greek word, it was used in an inscription in the temple in Jerusalem: "no foreigner is to enter." The same word was used in the Septuagint in laws that forbade outsiders from coming near the tabernacle -- with a penalty of death for those who did (Numbers 1:51; 3:10, 38; 16:40; 18:4, 7; Ezekiel 44:7, 9). However, Isaiah welcomes foreigners (53:3, 6). This man who would not have been allowed in the inner areas of the Jerusalem Temple, is welcomed to worship at Jesus' feet.

Returning to eucharisteo, the fourth use of this word forms an interesting contrast with the Samaritan in our text. In 18:11 it is a Pharisee who "gives thanks" to God. He prays: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people:...." This man was not commended for his thanksgiving.


These two "thankful" men present a very stark contrast: a Jewish Pharisee and a Samaritan leper.

I've presented this brief description of a Samaritan before: Briefly stated, a Samaritan is someone from Samaria. During an ancient Israeli war, most of the Israelis living up north in Samaria were killed or taken into exile. However, a few of them, who were so unimportant that nobody wanted them, were left in Samaria. 2 Kings 17:24 tells us that the conquering king forced people from five foreign cities/nations to settle in Samaria. These foreigners inter-married with the Jews and they brought in the worship of their own gods. By Jesus' time, Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the "true" Israelis. They had perverted the race. They had perverted the religion. They looked to Mt. Gerizim as the place to worship God, not Jerusalem. They interpreted the Torah differently than the southern Israelis -- who were later called "Jews". The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans were so great that some Jews would go miles out of their way to avoid walking on Samaritan territory.

Samaritans appear three times in Luke. In the first instance, they do not receive Jesus. James and John want to call down fire from heaven to consume them (9:52ff.). The "Good Samaritan" parable is the second occurrence (10:33). There, like in our text, a Samaritan becomes the example of proper behavior. By Luke's day, there had been a successful Christian mission work in Samaria (see Acts 8).

To bring "Samaritans" into the 20th century, we might talk about animosities that exist between people of different races or people of different religions. In scriptures, it is frequently the hated ones who become the examples for believers. Could a Palestinian teach a Jew? Can we Christians learn from Mormons or Hindus?

Some contrasts between these two "thankful" men.

The Pharisee was a devout Jew. A Samaritan was a despised, heathen foreigner.

The Pharisee worked hard to keep himself religiously pure (clean). The Samaritan was a leper, which made him unclean.

The Pharisee was thankful that he wasn't like everybody else -- he considered himself better than everyone else. The Samaritan leper was certainly not like everyone else. His nationality and skin disease made him less than everyone else.

The Pharisee offers his thanks in the temple -- the most holy of Jewish sites. The Samaritan is out on a(n unclean?) road at the (smelly?) feet of Jesus.

The Pharisee's thanksgiving is about what he has done. The Samaritan is thankful for what Jesus has done for him. The Pharisee's thanksgiving was self-exaltation. The Samaritan's thanksgiving was exalting Jesus -- in essence, making Jesus equal to God.

This comparison reminds us that there needs to be some qualifiers on stating, as I did above, that faith is our response of thanksgiving to God. It is responding in thanksgiving for what God has done for us -- we who are unworthy to receive anything from God because of our sinfulness.


As a Lutheran minister serving a Lutheran congregation, occasionally I will quote Martin Luther. I think that his explanation to the 1st Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism captures the essence of this text.

I believe that God has created me and all that exists.
God has given me and still preserves my body and soul
with all their powers.
God provides me with food and clothing, home and family,
daily work, and all I need from day to day.
God also protects me in time of danger and guards me from every evil.
All this God does out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy,
though I do not deserve it.
Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey God.
This is most certainly true.

All people have been created by God. Many people (and most Americans) have food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all that they need from day to day. I believe that God protects many people -- believers and non-believers alike in times of danger and guards them from evil. No one deserves this, yet God's "fatherly and divine goodness and mercy" touches many, many people. How are believers different from the rest of humanity? We are like the one leper. We recognize God's hand in the good that we have. We respond with thanks and praise to God through Jesus. We respond by serving and obeying God through Jesus.

A friend of mine, after returning from a trip to Africa, said that he had become much more thankful for many things we often take for granted in America: flush toilets, running water, drinkable water, gasoline stations, paved roads. Should we thank God that we have such good things in our lives?

The rest of the world may be like the nine lepers. They have been graced by God in many ways, but they don't recognize the source of such blessings. They don't offer the proper thanks and praise through Jesus.

A story (source unknown):

It happened one day that a farmer from the country was in town to do some business. He stopped at a drive-in restaurant to get a bit to eat. As was his custom, before he ate, he bowed his head and gave a word of thanks to God.

There were some others in the restaurant whose manners weren't quite so refined. They saw him praying, so in jest they asked him, "Does everybody where you're from pray before eating?"

The farmer looked up and said, "Nope. There are some who don't. We call them pigs and they just dig right in."


Our text begins by reminding us again that Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem -- a journey that began in 9:51 (reminders in 13:31-35; 14:25) and ends in 19:28ff. The geographical comment is puzzling. The journey from Galilee to Jerusalem means going from north to south. The border between Galilee and Samaria is nearly east to west. Going along the border would not be the most expedient route to Jerusalem.

The words for "leper" and "leprosy," as the NRSV footnotes, refers to several skin diseases. In the OT, clothing and houses could also be affected (Lv 14:55). Leviticus 13-14 gives the laws concerning "leprosy." These diseases had physical, religious, and social implications. "Curing" them -- usually called "cleansing" or "purifying" (katharizo see Lu 4:27; 5:12, 13; 7:22; 14:14, 17) required examination by the priest (to determine the physical healing and to restore the religious and social status of the person).

This is the second "cleansing" of a leper in Luke (5:12-14), but in this earlier miracle, the cleansing took place before Jesus tells the man to show himself to the priest.

In 4:27 Jesus makes reference to Naaman, a Syrian (foreigner) with leprosy whom Elisha cured. In this miracle, Elisha told Naaman to go and wash in the Jordan river seven times (2 Kings 5:10). In obeying the command, he was cured. After the cleansing, he returned to the man of God to offer gifts to him -- which Elisha refuses (2 Kings 5:15).

Perhaps people afflicted with AIDS might provoke a similar reaction as the people with ancient skin diseases. The disease brings with it not only the physical problems but social alienation (by many), because of fears of the disease and the assumed, inappropriate behaviors that brought about the disease. Being declared "cured" may not restore the person to social acceptability.

Standing from afar (v. 12) was required of lepers in Leviticus. They were to shout, "Unclean, unclean," so that the "clean" wouldn't contaminate themselves by getting too close to them. These ten literally "raise their voices, saying." I've suggested with another text, that maybe we need to learn to shout our prayers to God. This loud praying is repeated by the one who returns and "with a great voice" glorifies God (v. 15).

The request of the ten is, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." The title "master" (epistata) is used only in Luke (5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49; 17:13) and is more of a military or governmental term, which might have been better understood by "Most Excellent Theophilus."

The request for mercy (eleison -- like in the liturgical Kyrie) could simple be a request for money. Some forms of this word mean "to give alms" or "to give money to the needy." If so, they got more than they could have hoped -- no money, but cleansing, which brought with it restoration to society. Could that be a model for our social ministries -- not just to contribute money to the needy, but to seek to cleansing and restoration to society?

In contrast to thanksgiving to Jesus as the proper response to God's grace, those who don't have the necessities of life, those who are sick and ailing, their cry is not one of thanksgiving, but like these lepers, there is a time to cry out loudly to God (and others), "Lord (or 'sir') have mercy." There are times when we should not be thankful for the situations we are in. There are times when our response is to seek help from God and others.

Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreter's Bible) highlights the use of the word "see" in vv. 14 & 15. "In both cases, seeing means more than just physical sight -- it means on the one hand perceiving the opportunity to be merciful toward another, and on the other hand the recognition that God's mercy has touched one's life." [p. 326]

Later he writes:

The two instances of seeing each represent challenges for the believer. What do we see, and what do we do when we see? The first instance is the recognition of the need of others. Sometimes persons in need simply do not catch our attention. An irritable coworker may be facing a health problem or struggling with a difficult family situation. Who notices an international student far from home and family, or the person separated from family during the holidays? At other times, we simply pass by persons whose lives are a day-to-day struggle for subsistence or for emotional stability. Who sees?


The second question goes to the heart of the story. What do you do when you see? Jesus saw need and acted to meet it. When the leper saw healing, he did not just celebrate his good fortune; he returned to praise God and fall on his face before Jesus. Gratitude may be the purest measure of one's character and spiritual condition. The absence of the ability to be grateful reveals self-centeredness or the attitude that I deserve more than I ever get, so I do not need to be grateful. [p. 327]

Related to this, a statement that I read and have often used is "The important question to ask is not, 'What do you believe?' but 'What differences does it make that you believe?'"

I'm certain that all ten former-lepers believed something about their healing. We see the faith in the one whose beliefs made a difference in the way he acted. I find it ironic that for him to return and glorify God by thanking Jesus, he had to disobey the command from Jesus to go show himself to the priest! When might our thanksgivings to Jesus mean going against what is deemed good and proper?

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901