During the Biblical times, healing leprosy was a great miracle, like raising someone after death or healing a man born blind. When Jesus healed 10 lepers in one instance, it manifested his Messianic appearance. Only one among the cured lepers returned to Jesus to express his gratitude and worship towards God. Though the Jews despised the Samaritans, Jesus praised the grateful Samaritan. His attitude towards Jesus led him to his salvation, which the other nine missed. We are indebted to God and many others in our growth and sustenance. Let us be grateful to them and express that in our life.
(Luke 17:11) On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing along the border between Samaria and Galilee, and (12) as he entered a village, ten lepers came to meet him. (13) Keeping their distance, they called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (14) Then Jesus said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now, as they went their way, they found that they were cured. (15) One of them, as soon as he saw he was healed, turned back praising God in a loud voice, and (16) throwing himself on his face before Jesus, he gave him thanks. This man was a Samaritan. (17) Then Jesus said, “Were not all ten healed? Where are the other nine? (18) Was no one found to return and give praise to God but this foreigner?” (19) And Jesus said to him, “Get up and go your way; your faith has saved you.”
(Luke 17:11) On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing along the border between Samaria and Galilee, and…
Since the Jews were not on good terms with the Samaritans, the Jews from Galilee used to bypass Samaria when they traveled to Jerusalem. For that, they used to cross River Jordan and travel south on the side of the river and cross back to Jericho to reach Jerusalem. According to Luke’s gospel, Jesus was traveling through Samaria and Galilee that was the border between the two. A mixed group of lepers living there sought Jesus’ help. He was on his last trip to Jerusalem for his self-sacrifice there. Some scholars believe that Jesus had escaped from the Jewish leaders to that area after raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:54) because his time for self-sacrifice according to the timeline of his Father had not yet arrived. Then he was returning to Jerusalem to accomplish his redemptive mission.
(12) … as he entered a village, ten lepers came to meet him.
The evangelist does not mention the name of the village because it was in between the Jewish and Samaritan provinces and so an insignificant one. Such a village was suitable for the lepers to live, because they were outcasts from the Jewish community and had formed as a mixed group of Jews and Samaritans.
Researchers found leprosy bacteria among some mummies in Egypt. Leprosy was prevalent in the past. The Israelites received this disease from Egypt while they were slaves for 400 years there. The people misunderstood and feared leprosy as incurable and contagious throughout history. The Israelites considered it as God’s punishment for the affected people’s sins. According to Deuteronomy 28:27 Moses said: “The LORD shall inflict you with the boils of Egypt, tumors, scurvy and itch, from which you cannot be healed.” Ancient people considered cancer and elephantiasis also as leprosy.
The Jews considered lepers as sinners and spiritually dead. So, the priests declared them unclean after inspection and expelled them as outcasts from their family and society. Leviticus chapter 13 gives the details of how priests should examine the leper and declare him clean or unclean. The public avoided any contact with the lepers who must cry out “unclean, unclean” and keep a distance from others (Leviticus 13:45-46). People considered the places where lepers entered defiled. Though they could enter the synagogue for worship, they had an isolated place there. They had to go in together before the congregation entered and leave only after they left. If the lepers go beyond their allowed boundary anywhere, the community punished them with forty whip stripes. The scientists developed multi-drug treatment (MDT) for leprosy only in the 1970s on the island of Malta.
When the lepers were outcasts as unclean from their family and society, they felt isolated and lost their social and financial status. They had no means for their living. The lepers might even lose their hope in life and faith in God. So, regardless of their past status, all the lepers become equal. Thus, the Jewish and Samaritan lepers became one team of “unclean” or “untouchables” for mutual support. While keeping a legal distance from the community, they used to hang around the village as beggars to get food and other necessities of life from their sympathetic family members or any kindhearted villagers. We find a similar union of lepers in 2Kings 7:3, where four lepers were at a city gate during the time of Prophet Elisha.
Stood at a distance from him.
The lepers kept a distance from Jesus, as the rabbis prescribed. It was one hundred steps or six feet. The ten lepers kept this distance, and Jesus did not approach to touch them. Whereas in Matthew 8:3, Jesus touched a leper and healed him instantly.
(13) Keeping their distance, they called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
Since the lepers had to keep a distance, they had to cry aloud to Jesus for mercy and their unison cry expressed their desperate need for help. They addressed Jesus as “Master” used for a secular official, teacher, or rabbi. So, they did not know much of Jesus as a prophet or Son of God. The text does not say they asked for healing, unlike the leper in Matthew 8:1-4 who asked to make him clean. They asked for mercy as what they ask from others.
(14) Then Jesus said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now, as they went their way, they found that they were cured.
“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
When the lepers asked for mercy without specifying what kind of benevolence they wanted, Jesus also gave an indirect reply. He did not say that he would heal them, but asked them to show themselves to the priests. The Bible uses plural “priests” because one priest could not test all the ten lepers at a time. The test was a time-consuming procedure as described in Leviticus.
An unclean leper should not approach the priest for inspection. Hence, the lepers understood from Jesus’ instruction that he would cure them before they meet the priests. They believed what Jesus had told them and obeyed his command. According to the Law of Moses, priests had to confirm the leper’s healing with rituals and sacrifices that took eight days (Leviticus 14: 1-32).
As they went their way, they found that they were cured.
On their way to see the priests, who often lived together in the villages of Israel settlement, the lepers realized their healing. The cure of a leper was unusual, and rabbis considered it as difficult as raising a deceased person or healing a man born blind. The Old Testament records only two cures of lepers. One was Miriam’s healing. She was the sister of Moses who had leprosy for seven days as a punishment for speaking against Moses’ leadership (Number 12:9-15). The other one was Naaman’s recovery. He was the army commander of the king of Aram. Prophet Elisha asked him to wash seven times in the River Jordan (2Kings chapter 5). There was no more healing of lepers in the following 700 years in Israel. So, Jesus healing the lepers was a sign of Messianic manifestation.
(15) One of them, as soon as he saw he was healed, turned back praising God in a loud voice, and…
When the lepers felt the healing, they were excited because it was an unheard miracle, ten times greater than the one leper’s healing in Matthew 8:1-4. It was a resurrection experience for them. But they could not agree on one thing: Should they return to Jesus to thank and praise God? There arose a division among them as one against nine. Only one healed leper wanted to return and thank Jesus. He realized that Jesus was not just a rabbi, but the Messiah to which the Jewish lepers disagreed. The nine, after getting priests’ certification of acceptance to the community, went their own ways; may be to share their excitement with their family and community, while disregarding Jesus who cured them. The former Samaritan leper who returned to Jesus could not keep quiet. He glorified God in a loud voice because of his conviction that God healed him through His son Jesus.
(16) … throwing himself on his face before Jesus, he gave him thanks. This man was a Samaritan.
The cured Samaritan leper expressed his gratitude by falling at the feet of Jesus. That was his articulation of boundless humility and worship to the Son of God. Though he might have heard of the miracles of Jesus, he received a personal experience of it. As a Samaritan, he might have believed that he did not deserve such an outstanding favor from Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi. The other nine might have felt that they deserved such a favor from Jesus because they were Jews. However, they did not want to return to the Lord to thank him or give witness of Jesus to others for the favor they received. They might have even discouraged the healed Samaritan from returning to thank Jesus and worship him.
Evangelist Luke specifies that the returned former leper was a Samaritan. That has a special relevance for his readers. Though there were barriers between the Jews and the Samaritans, that should not affect Christianity. Jesus favored Samaritans many times like the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), and rebuking James and John from calling down fire from heaven to consume Samaritans when they refused to welcome Jesus in their city because he was heading for Jerusalem (Luke 9:53-55). Jesus acknowledged the gratitude of the Samaritan and exposed him as an example for others, including the Jews, who undervalued the Samaritans. As with the Good Samaritan parable, Jesus presented him as another role model.
(17) Then Jesus said, “Were not all ten healed? Where are the other nine?”
Once the healing took place, the nine Jews could not have a friendly relationship with the Samaritan. While they were lepers, the Jewish and Samaritan lepers were of the same inferior status in the society. So, they got united to support one another. Once they regained their health, they lost their collegiality. So, the nine did not want to walk with the Samaritan to return to Jesus. Jesus did not like their mentality of disengaging the friendship based on religious separation after their cure.
(18) “Was no one found to return and give praise to God but this foreigner?”
The word foreigner did not mean national difference, but the one who did not belong to the Jews. The Samaritans were aliens for Jews because, being a mixed race, the Jews did not consider Samaritans as the children of Abraham.
(19) And Jesus said to him, “Get up and go your way; your faith has saved you.”
The Samaritan’s return to Jesus in gratitude and worship of God expressed his faith in Jesus. So Jesus said his faith brought him salvation. While all the ten received only physical healing, the Samaritan got physical and spiritual recovery. People associated sin and guilt feeling with leprosy. Jesus gave the Samaritan a wholistic healing and entrance to the Kingdom of God.