Ten Are Healed, One Is Saved

Luke 17:11-19

Ten Are Healed, One Is Saved

March 4, 2018


          Jesus saves. All this season of Lent we’re looking at what that means in the stories of Jesus. For the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, ‘Jesus saves’ means not only that her hemorrhage stops, but that she is restored to family and community, made welcome in the place of worship, she is un-ostracized. Jesus saves. For the woman others called a sinner, ‘Jesus saves’ means being accepted, loved, respected for who she is and who by the grace of God she may become. Jesus saves.

          Today’s gospel story draws a distinction between being ‘healed’ on the one hand and being ‘saved’ on the other. All ten lepers, it says, are healed—“made clean,” Luke calls it. Iaomai, is the Greek word—it’s a medical term; we might best call it ‘cured.’ Ten lepers are cured, but to only one leper does Jesus say, “Your faith has . . . made you well,” it says. But of course by now you know that ‘made well’ is our old friend, the Greek word sōzō. It’s sometimes translated ‘healed,’ yes; and sometimes ‘made well.’ But it means saved, in all the ways that Jesus saves.

          So what’s the difference between being cured and being saved? What set the one leper apart from the other nine? Let me give you two answers to those questions.

  1. All ten lepers, it says, were made clean as they were on their way to the priest. But here’s what happened to the one that didn’t happen to the others. It says, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God.” He is saved because he sees what God has done--he notices, he pays attention.

Here’s how Chris Anderson puts it in his wonderful book, Light When it Comes: The key word in the story, he says, is seeing, realizing. And one of them, Luke says, realizing that he had been healed. . . “As if,” Anderson says, “you wouldn’t know you’d been healed of leprosy. As if that wouldn’t be obvious.”

“But we’re being healed of leprosy all the time,” he says, “and we’re always failing to realize it.” I drive down the road and the leaves are turning yellow and red. A friend says something kind. I raise the cup at Holy Communion, brimming with wine, like rubies in a brooch. But I let the moments pass, or I never realize they’ve happened at all.1

Those are his examples of lepers being healed all the time. I have plenty of my own. My wife had cancer; my daughter had a life-threatening condition. And both are alive and living the dream. Almost every Sunday I get to hold one of your babies, and take that precious life into my own fragile hands. I sat recently in the presence of two people tearfully forgiving one another after years of separation and anger. I’m being healed of leprosy all the time, but all too often I let the moments pass, or never realize they’ve happened at all.

Those are my examples of lepers being healed all the time. I suspect you have some of your own. And when we manage to see, when we take time to realize what Jesus has done, we turn and praise God. Already we’ve been cured, already we’ve been healed. But in the seeing, in the noticing, we are saved.


  1. That’s one: we are saved when we see what Jesus has done and turn and praise the Lord. Here’s the other one. Because their disease was contagious, lepers had to stay away from everyone else. They lived outside the city walls. If they went anywhere they had to shout out they were lepers so others would stay away. If lepers thought they’d been cured, only the priest could certify it; only the priest could give lepers approval to return society and their loved ones. So in the process of healing them, Jesus naturally sends all ten lepers to the priest, to be proclaimed cured. Nine of them do as they’re told, never to be heard from again. But one of them does not do what Jesus says to do. One of them does not go to the priest. One of them is disobedient. And that’s the one, it says, who has faith. That one is saved.

          What are we to make of that—that it’s the disobedient one that is saved? Well, for one thing, this one is a Samaritan—a “foreigner,” Jesus calls him. Literally, the Greek word means someone “of another race.” In other words, he is a double outsider—not only a leper, but a despised foreign leper. Maybe he has less to lose than the others. Or maybe he has less to gain by going to the priest. Whatever the reason is, nine lepers behave like respectable people, obedient religious people, rule-followers; they do what Jesus tells them to do, what you’d expect cured lepers to do—they go to the priest.

          But one of them, a double outsider, does not. One of them makes a scene. When he sees that he is cured, he turns; he comes busting back to Jesus, shouting for all the world to hear. He throws himself face-down on the ground at Jesus’ feet. He will not quit thanking Jesus and praising God. He is not obedient; he is not respectable. Instead, as Barbara Taylor puts it, he acts “like a man in love.”2 It’s one thing to be cured of leprosy, it’s one thing to go obediently and respectably to the priest—it’s another thing altogether to come busting back to Jesus, giving thanks and praising God like a woman or man, like a girl or boy in love. Ten are healed; one is saved.

          Barbara Taylor grows confessional in her sermon on this scripture. She says, I know how to be obedient; what I don’t know so well is how to be in love with Jesus. I read my Bible, say my prayers, pay my pledge. And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s the kind of steady, rule-following discipleship—the discipleship of the nine lepers—that keeps the church going. I am, she admits, one of the nine. But what we long to be, what our hearts cry out for—at least once in a while—is to be in love with Jesus, to come busting back shouting praise and throwing ourselves on the ground. What we long for, what our hearts cry out for . . . is to be saved.

          Where are the nine, Jesus asks the healed Samaritan leper. But of course we know where the nine are. They’re us. An even better question is, “Where is the one, the one who got saved?”


          To be saved is to be restored to family and community, made welcome in the place of worship, to be un-ostracized. Jesus saves. To be saved is to accepted, loved, respected for who you are right now and who by the grace of God you may become. Jesus saves. To be saved is to see how we you being healed all the time, and for once in your life be the one who leaves obedience and respectability behind to come busting back to Jesus with gratitude and joy. Jesus saves, if only we will let him.


1 Chris Anderson, Light When It Comes: Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness & Seeing God in Everything (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 61-62.

2 Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Tenth Leper,” The Preaching Life (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1993), 107-13.

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