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The Ungrateful Lepers, as Time Goes By

When Christ healed the ten lepers, only one returned to give thanks. What happened to the other nine, the ungrateful ones? I tried to imagine it…

To begin, we must read the Biblical account found in Chapter 17 of the Book of Luke:

“And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
“And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
“And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
“And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
“And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
“And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
“There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
“And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”

The Lord used this event as an example of the general ingratitude among his children.  The Lord taught us a great lesson by looking at one intersecting snapshot of their ten lives. (I’m sure that if brief moments in our lives were recorded in scripture, most of us could be used as a bad example or a good example, depending on the day or event.) For the ungrateful lepers, there are no follow-up scriptures later, telling us how these nine lepers fared in life.  I like to wonder about what occurred throughout the rest of their lives after they were healed. I suppose I like to think that a few, perhaps all, of the nine ungrateful lepers had a delayed gratitude reaction later. It’s not hard to imagine how things might have been…

It’s possible, perhaps, that ungrateful leper #1 was the father of many children, and had been gone from home for some time. Perhaps it was his anxiety for his family that caused him to overlook giving thanks. All those long nights in the leper colony, he lay awake wondering if his family had enough to eat, if they had shelter, and if his wife was lonely and sad. He paced the walls of the leper colony at night, with his stomach in knots, and worried about his family. When he was healed, the only thought in his mind or feeling in his heart was to find his family and make sure they were all right. Perhaps later that night, upon arriving home and finding his wife and children alive and safe, he remembered to kneel in prayer, with his family gathered around him, and express gratitude to Heavenly Father.  Then there would be two healed lepers who were grateful. Then the Savior would only have to say, “but where are the eight?”

Let us also wonder what became of ungrateful leper #2. Perhaps his life before leprosy had been full of broken promises and lies, shady business dealings and corrupt motives. Perhaps every person he had ever been close to said, “What’s in it for me?” Perhaps he had learned to be the same way—constantly looking out for his own selfish interests.  Such a person probably wouldn’t feel very grateful at first, because he had learned that people have self-serving or hostile motives when they do something nice for you. Perhaps leper #2 was jaded and suspicious of any kind deed, and he waited for the day of extortion that he thought would follow this kind deed of healing. Perhaps it took some patient reaching out on the Lord’s part before the inner leper could accept and trust the love Jesus offered him. Perhaps then he was overwhelmed with gratitude and love. Then the Lord could turn to his three grateful lepers, and ask, “but where are the seven?”

Let’s suppose that ungrateful leper #3 was a spoiled young man, who had never known anything of loss or hardship before the leprosy. Perhaps he had only been in the leper colony a few weeks, and had spent the whole time feeling entitled to be healed. Maybe he had ruminated about how unfair it was that he had leprosy, and about how none of his friends had it; even Jacob so-and-so who stole and lied and cheated didn’t have leprosy, and it wasn’t fair. None of it was fair. And then when leper #3 was healed, and he wasn’t grateful at first, because as far he was concerned, he never should have gotten leprosy in the first place. Perhaps, as he went about his life, he often complained about how unfair it was that he had spent several weeks in a leper colony once. Perhaps he met a lovely young girl who cared for him, despite his immaturity and lack of gratitude. They fell in love. They married. They had a son. How it took his breath away to hold that child for the first time! Perhaps, for leper #3, this is what it took to turn his attitude around. Maybe then he was grateful, for his life, his lovely wife, for the chance to have a family, and for being healed. Perhaps he had to become a husband and father himself before he could understand the love of his Father in Heaven. Then he was truly grateful. Then Jesus could say, “but where are the six?”

Perhaps leper #4 didn’t even want to be healed, at least not without his friends left behind in the leper colony. Perhaps, as he considered the sad state of the many, many people still living in the leper colony, he couldn’t enjoy his own healing at all. As he thought of the many lepers living in constant pain and isolation, leper #4 was heartbroken.  Such a person might have suffered from depression and guilt over his healing. Perhaps he wondered why Jesus hadn’t just healed everybody all at once. Maybe this survivor’s guilt tormented him into action, and he spent all of his time and energy trying to make life better for those left behind. Being whole, he could wrangle up supplies, and organize volunteers, and raise awareness of the plight of the lepers left unhealed. Maybe only then did he truly realize the blessing of being healed, because of the service he and only he could provide. Maybe only then could he truly express thanks. Then could the Savior say, “but where are the five?”

Perhaps leper #5 was old, very old, and secretly longed for death. Perhaps his sweet earthly companion had passed on years ago, and he had been very lonely for a long time even before contracting leprosy. Perhaps he had felt like death was very near, and he had accepted it; he had secretly yearned for it. Perhaps understandably, he had a hard time being truly grateful for the healing, at least until the day his young grandson joyously exclaimed that he had been praying day and night that his beloved grandfather would be healed, and now he knew that God had heard his prayers. Perhaps looking into the faith-filled countenance of his young grandson, leper #5 finally felt truly grateful for the healing.  Then Jesus only need ask, “but where are four?”

Perhaps leper #6 didn’t express gratitude because he was too ashamed of his past sins that he had never repented of. Perhaps he simply couldn’t return to the Savior’s all-seeing eye to say thank you because he couldn’t bear, in his spiritually unclean state, to be in His holy presence. Perhaps he erroneously thought that the Lord didn’t really know what a bad person he was, and if the Lord had known, He never would have healed him.  But then, maybe, with time, the healing gave him just enough hope to finally seek the forgiveness he so desperately needed. Maybe he felt grateful for the first light of hope he had seen in a long time. As he started repenting, he began to feel even more gratitude. Being cleansed from leprosy, he could approach those he had offended and try to finally make amends. Perhaps as he fully repented, he felt so grateful for the forgiveness from his fellowman and the Lord. And with his inner vessel cleansed and healed also, perhaps he was filled with gratitude toward the Savior who had healed him, inside and out.  Then Jesus might wonder, “but where are the three?”

Perhaps leper #7 didn’t return to thank the Savior because he was painfully shy. Maybe he had stuttered as a child; maybe he had been bullied at school. Maybe he longed to return and express gratitude with all of his heart, but he was too socially awkward and embarrassed. Perhaps he followed the Savior for weeks afterwards, just trying to summon the courage to say a simple “thank you”. It may have been the hardest thing he had ever done in his life to approach the Lord, surrounded by his entourage of followers and disciples, and thank him for the healing. His gratitude toward the Savior had to grow stronger than his fear. His courage was rewarded with peace. Now the Lord asks, “but where are the two?”

Perhaps leper #8 was a “by the book” kind of guy, not the kind to improvise or act spontaneously.  Maybe he didn’t go back because, after all, the Lord had told them to “Go shew yourselves unto the priests,” so that was exactly what he was going to do. The Lord had said nothing about coming back to say “thanks”. Maybe later he pondered the appropriate way to say “Thank You”, because there just wasn’t a custom or practice that he could find for showing gratitude for such a miraculous healing. Perhaps then, because he couldn’t find the appropriate custom, he searched the scriptures, and found out what it was that pleased the Lord most. Perhaps he went and did these things for the rest of his life, and that was his way of saying “Thank you”; that was his way of being grateful – to take the time to figure out what the Lord really desired as a thank you gift, and then to give it to Him. The Lord whispers, “Was there not one more? Where is he?”

Perhaps leper #9 didn’t remember to come back and give thanks because he was simply caught up in the moment. Maybe it was just such a beautiful day, and his body suddenly felt better, and in his happy, joyful exuberance, he just didn’t remember. Maybe he just couldn’t wait to announce his healing on whatever the social equivalence to Facebook was back then. Maybe he’d been on his metaphorical “Ancient Facebook” for hours, rejoicing his healing with 500 of his closest Facebook friends, before his mother and father chimed in, asking him if he had remembered to say “Thank you”. (There’s a reason why parents friend their children on Facebook, you know, it’s partially for circumstances like this.) Maybe then he remembered, with a sudden jolt, that he hadn’t expressed gratitude. He was probably a little shocked at himself. Perhaps then he rushed to his knees, and poured his heart out in prayer thanking the Lord for his healing. Then could the Lord say, “Where is the one who was grateful first? Is he still here, or has he gone?”

And leper #10, who was grateful in the beginning, was grateful still. Faithful all along, he rejoiced with the Lord that the other 9 had eventually returned to give thanks.
Perhaps. Maybe. It could have all happened this way.
Then could Jesus say, “Here are my ten. Their faith hath made them whole.”
Then he would say to all of us, “Come, have faith in me, and be made whole also.”

Now, some readers of my story might feel like I should have given at least some of the ungrateful lepers a more “realistic” and negative ending. It’s certainly true that many ungrateful folks go through their whole lives that way, and never seem to change. But when I wrote this story and gave this talk, in October of 2010, the trapped miners in Chile had just been rescued after 69 long days trapped deep in the ground. I still remember the joy I felt when I heard in the news that they had been saved. In celebration of every single one of those 33 trapped miners being physically saved, I decided to allow all of the 9 ungrateful lepers to be spiritually saved in my story.

Story originally written and used in a talk given October 17th, 2010 at the Lakeview Manor Branch (Orem, UT) by Sister Kathryn S. Allen. It was also previously published on several blogs that are no longer active.

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