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(1) The Grateful Samaritan (17:11–19)
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
The account of the grateful Samaritan, which is unique to Luke, introduces the third section of the travel account (cf. 17:11 with 9:51 and 13:22). Jesus continued toward Jerusalem, where he would die (9:22, 31, 44), for he must fulfill his passion in the holy city (13:33). The classification of this story is difficult, but its emphasis lies with the pronouncement in 17:17–19.
The account begins with Jesus’ healing ten lepers at a distance (17:12, 14; cf. 7:6–10). Lepers had to live apart from society (; ), and to reenter society they had to be declared clean by a priest (). As they proceeded to the priests, they were healed. One of the lepers upon observing his healing returned to give thanks to Jesus. It is then pointed out that this leper was a Samaritan. This one had been not only physically healed but spiritually healed as well (17:19). Whereas the other nine received God’s word and believed for a time, they fell short of the ultimate healing, i.e., experiencing the divine salvation. They had “been enlightened … [and] tasted the heavenly gift” () in their experience of divine healing, but they fell short of saving faith.
17:11 On his way to Jerusalem. This is the third mention of Jesus’ traveling to Jerusalem (cf. 9:51; 13:22).
Along the border between Samaria and Galilee. The expression “along between” (dia meson) is difficult to interpret, and as a result there are several textual variants. Since Galilee lies north of Samaria, one would think that Jesus would have been going in a north-south direction, and “along between” suggests an east-west direction. Some scholars have suggested that Luke revealed here a great ignorance of Palestinian geography. Luke may have meant, however, that Jesus and the disciples were traveling east-west along the Plain of Esdraelon (Valley of Jezreel). Although one might expect the reverse, Samaria is mentioned first because of the importance the Samaritan leper plays in the story. For “Samaria” see comments on 10:33.
17:12 Ten. “Ten” is a round number. Compare , where a group of lepers are found together, probably for mutual aid and encouragement.
A village. The name is irrelevant. What happened, not where it happened, is important. Compare 9:52, 56; 10:38.
Leprosy. See comments on 5:12.
They stood at a distance. The law required the segregation of lepers (cf. ; ).
17:13 Jesus, Master. Elsewhere only Jesus’ disciples used this term “Master” (epistata) to address him (see comments on 5:5), whereas nondisciples used the term “teacher” (didaskalos).
Have pity on us! Compare ; . The particular mercy being sought is not mentioned. The lepers might have sought alms from others, but from the address “Master” Luke suggested they sought more, i.e., healing, from Jesus.
17:14 Go, show yourselves to the priests. Compare 5:14. “Priests” is plural because there were ten lepers. That Jesus anticipated that the Samaritan would go to a Samaritan priest is speculative. Luke was not concerned with this detail.
As they went, they were cleansed. In contrast to 5:12–16, where the healing took place before the command to show oneself to the priest, here the healing took place on the way (cf. ). The obedience to Jesus’ word reveals a certain degree of faith on the part of all ten lepers (cf. ). “Cleansed” refers to healing from leprosy, as reveals.
17:15 One of them. The Samaritan in response to his healing did four things.
Praising God. Praise as the appropriate response to God’s salvation is a favorite Lukan theme (see comments on 5:25).
In a loud voice. “A loud voice” is a favorite Lukan expression.
17:16 Threw himself at Jesus’ feet. See comments on 5:12.
And thanked him. Only here in the NT are thanks directed to Jesus rather than God. Compare, however, where prayer is offered to Jesus in Acts.246 Compare for a similar reaction from Naaman the leper.
And he. “He” is emphatic, “And he …”
Samaritan. Mention of this has been delayed in the story to dramatize this fact. This would remind Luke’s readers of the parable of the good Samaritan and that it was a Samaritan, not the priest or Levite, who proved to be a neighbor (cf. 10:30–37). It would also affirm to them the subsequent history of the church and how Samaritans received the gospel and official Judaism did not. Even though they already knew this, they would later read about this in Luke’s second work.
17:17–18 Jesus asked three rhetorical questions.
Nine. The nine were the Jewish lepers who were healed, in contrast to the “foreigner.” For Luke’s Jewish readers the pathos of these questions would have been great (cf. ). Once again the last had become first and the first last ().
Give praise to God. True faith and worship involves praising, i.e., glorifying, God. See comments on 5:25; contrast .
17:19 Your faith. In the first situation in life, this no doubt referred to a faith in God and in Jesus as his representative. In the Lukan setting such faith would be more Christologically oriented and refer to faith in Jesus as the Lord Christ, God’s Son, who rose from the dead, reigns, and will return.
Has made you well. “Made you well” is literally saved you. See comments on 7:50. For Luke true faith, which leads to salvation, was intimately connected with glorying God even as it is elsewhere connected with the forgiveness of sins (), entering God’s kingdom (18:24–25), and inheriting eternal life (18:18–30). Compare the connection between faith and glorifying God in 18:42–43 and in , .
The Lukan Message
A clear Christological emphasis is present, for the account provides another example of Jesus’ power. He is able to heal lepers (, ; ). This emphasis is furthermore heightened by 17:17. Between the praise of God offered by the believing Samaritan (17:15) and the praise of God referred to by Jesus (17:18), we find that the Samaritan threw himself at Jesus’ feet and “thanked him” (17:16). Only here in all the NT are such thanks directed to Jesus. Elsewhere they are directed to God (18:11; 22:17, 19; ; ). Luke made clear in that such homage does not belong to humans, only to God (cf. also ). Yet such homage is also to be directed to Jesus. Thus Luke demonstrated once again Jesus’ uniqueness. Earlier (; ) Luke portrayed Jesus as exercising the divine prerogative of forgiving sins.
A second emphasis involves a soteriological truth. Luke warned his readers that one can experience God’s work of grace and yet fall short of receiving salvation. Ten lepers were healed. All experienced the beginning of faith, for all went out in faith to show themselves to the priests. Yet, like the seed that fell upon the rock, they received Jesus’ “word with joy … but … only believe[d] for a while” (8:13). Only one soil retained the word and persevered in faith (8:15). Luke again warned his readers that one can experience God’s work and even his healing but fall short of salvation, and this last state may in fact be worse than the first (cf. 11:24–26). Nine lepers were able to say: “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets. [You even healed us!].” But they will be denied (13:26–27). Luke’s readers were instructed to make certain they were identified with the leper who persevered.
Two other Lukan themes are also found here. The theme of the great reversal is once again seen. It was the outcast, the Samaritan, who truly believed. See Introduction 8 (5). His experience foreshadows the future inclusion of the Samaritans into the believing community, as well as the rejection of the gospel by mainstream Judaism. A final theme involves the continued validity of the OT as God’s Word. Jesus sent the lepers to the priests in order to receive certificates of cleansing, for this was what the law taught. See 2:21–40—“The Lukan Message”.
Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24, pp. 432–435). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
The Bible Exposition Commentary Chapter Sixteen: Things that Really Matter (Luke 17)

Thankfulness (Luke 17:11–19)

Between Luke 17:10 and 11, the events of John 11 occurred as the Lord Jesus made His way to Jerusalem. At the border of Samaria and Judea, Jesus healed ten lepers at one time, and the fact that the miracle involved a Samaritan made it even more significant (see Luke 10:30–37). Jesus used this event to teach a lesson about gratitude to God.

The account begins with ten unclean men (Luke 17:11–13), all of whom were lepers (see the comments on Luke 5:12–15). The Jews and Samaritans would not normally live together, but misery loves company and all ten were outcasts. What difference does birth make if you are experiencing a living death? But these men had hope, for Jesus was there, and they cried out for mercy. The word translated “master” is the same one Peter used (Luke 5:5) and means “chief commander.” They knew that Jesus was totally in command of even disease and death, and they trusted Him to help them.

The account continues by referring to nine ungrateful men (Luke 17:17). Jesus commanded the men to go show themselves to the priest, which in itself was an act of faith, for they had not yet been cured. When they turned to obey, they were completely healed, for their obedience was evidence of their faith (see 2 Kings 5:1–14).

You would have expected all ten men to run to Jesus and thank Him for a new start in life, but only one did so—and he was not even a Jew. How grateful the men should have been for the providence of God that brought Jesus into their area, for the love that caused Him to pay attention to them and their need, and for the grace and power of God that brought about their healing. They should have formed an impromptu men’s chorus and sung Psalm 103 together!

But before we judge them too harshly, what is our own “GQ”—“Gratitude Quotient”? How often do we take our blessings for granted and fail to thank the Lord? “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps. 107:8, 15, 21, 31) Too often we are content to enjoy the gift but we forget the Giver. We are quick to pray but slow to praise.

The next time you sing “Now Thank We All Our God,” try to remember that Martin Rinkhart wrote it during the Thirty Years’ War when his pastoral duties were most difficult. He conducted as many as forty funerals a day, including that of his own wife; yet he wrote those beautiful words as a table grace for his family. In spite of war and plague around him and sorrow within him, he was able to give thanks to the Lord from a grateful heart.

Luke’s account closes with one unusual man (Luke 17:15–19). The Samaritan shouted “Glory to God!” and fell at Jesus’ feet to praise Him and give thanks. It would have been logical for him to have followed the other men and gone to the temple, but he first came to the Lord Jesus with his sacrifice of praise (Ps. 107:22; Heb. 13:15). This pleased the Lord more than all the sacrifices the other men offered, even though they were obeying the Law (Ps. 51:15–17). Instead of going to the priest, the Samaritan became a priest, and he built his altar at the feet of Jesus (read Ps. 116:12–19).

By coming to Jesus, the man received something greater than physical healing: he was also saved from his sins. Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you” (literal translation), the same words He spoke to the repentant woman who anointed His feet (Luke 7:50). The Samaritan’s nine friends were declared clean by the priest, but he was declared saved by the Son of God! While it is wonderful to experience the miracle of physical healing, it is even more wonderful to experience the miracle of eternal salvation.

Every child of God should cultivate the grace of gratitude. It not only opens the heart to further blessings but glorifies and pleases the Father. An unthankful heart is fertile soil for all kinds of sins (Rom. 1:21ff).

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