“Jesus, I need healing. As the summer winds down and I enter into the fall semester, there are many things that I am excited about. But I cannot move past the effects of the last eighteen months. I am physically tired from adjusting to life with a newborn daughter. I am mentally tired from having to critically think about the daily headlines. I am emotionally tired from processing my own suffering and the suffering of people I love. I am socially tired from gathering or not gathering, Zoom or no Zoom, masks or no masks. I’m spiritually tired because of sin. I am a sinner who has sinned against you, I have sinned against others, and I have been sinned against by others. Jesus, have mercy on me! Heal me!”
This was a real prayer of mine after reading Luke 17:11-19. Before I explain the text, I want to ask you, in what ways are you tired? What parts of your life do you need healing physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
Once you have thought about those things, consider where they have led you. Where do they have you right now as you enter the fall semester?
For me, I sometimes feel like my weaknesses make me an outsider. Someone on the margins—on the outside looking in at where I want to be, and even more, where I need to be. I am aware of the distance these last 18 months have created.
Do you feel the same? If so, you and I are in good company. Jesus is merciful and can heal us. He is able to revive all of our tiredness and restore us from the margins. The question for us is, “How will I respond when Jesus heals me?”
This is the question Luke 17:11-19 produces for us. In this story, Jesus heals ten lepers who have found themselves on the outskirts of the city because of their physical weaknesses—alienated and socially distanced from friends, family, and their community of faith. And yet, only one returns to worship God for being healed.
As we look at this text, my hope is that you see three things: the mercy of Jesus is comprehensive, the mercy of Jesus is unconditional, and how we should respond to the mercy of Jesus.
“On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’”
When we experience the mercy of God, it heals our weaknesses and the distance our weaknesses create. We see this in the experience of these ten lepers. We know from the text that these lepers are outcasts who are forced to live on the outskirts of the town because of their disease. As Jesus enters the village, they call out to him “at a distance,” which shows us that they are aware of the social impact their physical weaknesses have on their lives. They are isolated. So, they call out to Jesus and ask for mercy.
Notice how Jesus’ mercy heals them physically and restores them socially. We know this because Jesus commands them in verse 14 to “go and show yourselves to the priests.” The priests were some of the most powerful people in society because they had control over the social order of individuals. These priests were the ones who had the power to cast people out of, and restore them back to, their lives and communities. Apart from the priests’ approval, these lepers would not have been able to return to their homes, families, and friends.
This shows us that God’s mercy is comprehensive—it heals and restores all aspects of our lives. Jesus did not simply heal them and move on. He was concerned about their physical weaknesses as well as the social, emotional, mental, and spiritual impacts their disease had on their lives. And the same is true for you and me. Jesus wants to extend His mercy towards you in all areas of your life. The mercy of Jesus can heal all your present weaknesses and the distance they may have created between you and God, your family, your friends, or your community.
For these lepers, I wonder what was more painful. The physical pain of leprosy or the emotional and social pain it created. Regardless, the good news is that the mercy of Jesus is comprehensive. For you and me, we should find hope that, when we call out to Jesus for mercy, He knows all the areas of our lives that need healing. Sometimes, we can and should go to God and ask for healing in a very specific way. But other times, we can and should go to God and simply ask for healing in our whole lives because His mercy is comprehensive.
This brings me so much comfort because I do not have to be perfectly self-aware of where I need mercy. In fact, I am probably worse than I realize. I am probably more tired, more broken, more wrong, and more hurt than I think I am. But God sees the depths of me, and I have faith that His mercy goes all the way to the bottom.
Based on Jesus’ discouraged response when only one of the lepers returns, we see that He wanted all ten to return. It amazes me that Jesus made no demands when they asked for His mercy. He easily could have made specific conditions or requirements of them in order to be healed. And, most likely, they would have done them. But He doesn’t. Instead, He responds with no conditions or requirements.
It amazes me that Jesus, who is God and knows all things, knew that only one of the ten would return. He wants all of them to respond by worshipping and praising God, and yet, even knowing that nine of them will not, He still chooses to heal them! God is so gracious and merciful that even His knowledge of our wrong responses towards Him doesn’t prevent Him from healing us.
It amazes me that Jesus, who is God and knows all things, also knew each person’s motivations for asking for His mercy. He knew that deep down the other nine lepers would treat His mercy as a means for their own desires. And yet, Jesus still heals them! God is so gracious and merciful that He does not ask us to give a case for why we want His mercy. Nor does He make us pledge what our response to His mercy will be beforehand.
Why does He do this? Because His mercy is unconditional. God wants His unconditional mercy towards us to produce our willful and joyful response of faith and worship of Him.
What this means for us is that we can simply ask for God’s mercy in our lives. We do not have to negotiate with Him when we really need help. We do not have to make our case for why He should help us. We can simply call out for His mercy. And even though He knows how we will respond, He wants us to respond with faith and worship.
It is clear based on the Samaritan’s response that Jesus wants us to respond with worship when we experience His mercy. When God grants us mercy, we should turn, fall at Jesus’ feet, and praise God by giving thanks. Unfortunately, this is often not our response. As I have been writing this, I have become quickly aware of how rarely I do this. If I am being honest, I am more like the nine who do not return than the one who does. Like the nine, I would rather continue on with my life having received the fruit of God’s mercy than faithfully responding with the acknowledgement, thankfulness, and worship He deserves. It is not often that I intentionally go to God in prayer and thank Him for doing the thing I asked Him to do. And, as we clearly see from Jesus’ response, He really does want our worshipful response.
If you are like me in this struggle, the first thing we should do is repent. Join me in turning back to God and thanking Him for all the ways He has been merciful to you. In what areas of your life have you seen God’s mercy this year? With a heart of thankfulness, praise God. And then, ask the Holy Spirit to help you remember to do this as soon as you realize you’ve been healed in the way(s) you asked God for.
As Christians, this is how we should respond to God’s mercy in our lives moving forward. But, we must also remember the ultimate mercy we’ve already received by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In reality, all of us were in a much worse place than the ten lepers in this story. Our sin against God covered us in a spiritual disease that infected our entire being—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. In fact, our sin was so bad that it didn’t just alienate us from the people of God, but from God Himself. Our sin made us spiritually dead to the point where we had no ability to call out to Jesus for mercy at all. “[We] were dead in our sins and tresspasses … But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1,4-5 ESV).
The leper who first called out to Jesus at a distance experienced His mercy and was able to draw near and fall at His feet. For us, we have received something much greater. We were dead and alienated from God, but have received mercy that makes us one with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Having received this ultimate mercy, one that brought us from death to life, let us ask for God’s comprehensive and unconditional mercy in our daily lives with eager hearts to receive it and respond to it with worship and thanksgiving.