The Beauty of Turning Back


Ten lepers at the edge of a village call out to Jesus, who is on his way toward Jerusalem. They say what we would say when faced with a hopeless situation. The lepers stand at a distance because they are required to protect others from their ritual ‘un-cleanness’ and disease. With both hope and desperation, they cry out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Seeing them, Jesus simply says, “Go, and show yourselves to the priests!” The ten then turn, and do what Jesus says. Why? Why do they do that? Just because he told them to? No ~ it’s because they accept and believe what Jesus says.

According to Mosaic Law, only priests could certify that someone was ritually clean and free of disease. The sole reason for the ten to show themselves to the priests would be to present evidence that they were healed! Going to the priests would imply they believed their healing was already happening, if not complete. By turning to go, all ten showed that they believed what Jesus’ word would accomplish. And Luke tells us that as they went, all ten were cleansed.

Imagine being in their place. Surely, having been healed, every one of them was filled with overwhelming joy! James Christensen’s painting, Ten Lepers, captures the moment beautifully. I love how the artist portrays the ten, and especially the one who turns back. Bubbling with excitement about what the priests’ certification would mean for their lives, the ten would have run to be reunited with their families and former homes. All ten would have been filled with thanks and praise for the great gift they had received. We therefore miss the point of this story if we think only one of them, the Samaritan, was thankful.

Listen to how Luke tells it: “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.” By turning back, he humbly manifests a sign of repentance. Then, by falling down, he embodies a sign of worship. So, this man who turned back wasn’t just thankful in general about being healed. He came back to give particular thanks to the source of his healing. Luke leaves us to imagine his words, which must have been something like, “Praise you, O Lord, for your mighty work in my life!”

Falling down at Jesus’ feet was an act of worship. This is what we do when we bow in humility before God. It’s how we acknowledge our unworthiness, giving thanks for undeserved grace and mercy. The Greek verb Luke uses to describe what this man does at Jesus’ feet, is “eucharisteo”… In other words, he fell down in “Eucharist” at Jesus’ feet ~ where he responds with great thanksgiving!


The image above is of James C. Christensen’s painting, Ten Lepers. This post is based on my homily for Sunday, October 13, 2019, which can be accessed by clicking hereOther homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.

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