During 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.”
(Lk 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 travelled 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 travelling 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 (Jn 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 lepers 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 picked up this disease in 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, tumours, 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 (Lev 13:45-46). People considered the places where lepers entered defiled. Though they could enter the synagogue for worship, they had a segregated section there. They had to go in together before the congregation entered and leave only after they left. If the lepers overstepped their allotted boundary anywhere, they incurred a penalty of forty whip lashes. Science developed Multi-Drug Treatment (MDT) for leprosy only in the 1970s on the island of Malta.
When the lepers were labelled as unclean and cast out by their family and society, they felt isolated and lost their social and financial status. They had no means of livelihood. 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 kind hearted villagers. We find a similar union of lepers in 2 Kings 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 the prescribed distance from Jesus. It was one hundred steps or sixty 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 favour 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 probably assumed from Jesus’ instruction that he had something planned. They decided to ‘risk it’. According to the Law of Moses, priests had to confirm the leper’s healing with rituals and sacrifices that took eight days (Lev 14:1-32).
As they went their way, they found that they were cured
On their way to see the priests, the lepers understood 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 (Num 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 (2 Kgs 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 separate ways; maybe to share their excitement with their family and community, while disregarding Jesus who cured them. The Samaritan leper alone returned to thank Jesus because he felt a debt of gratitude. He glorified God in a loud voice because of his conviction that it was God who had healed him through 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. Though he might have heard of the miracles of Jesus, he had just received a personal experience of it. As a Samaritan, he might have felt unworthy to receive such an outstanding favour from Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi. The other nine must have felt that they were entitled to such special favours because they were Jews. However, they did not want to return to the Lord to thank him or testify to others for the favour they had received. They might have even discouraged the healed Samaritan from returning to thank Jesus and worship him.
Evangelist Luke specifies that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan. That has special relevance for his readers. Though there was animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans that should not affect Christianity. Jesus favoured Samaritans many times like the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37), the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 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 (Lk 9:53-55). Jesus acknowledged the gratitude of the Samaritan and upheld him as an example, especially for the Jews who despised 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 fraternal bonding. Now suddenly the nine did not want to walk with the Samaritan anywhere, even to return to thank their benefactor. Jesus did not like their reversion to their old exclusivist mentality after their cure.
(18) “Was no one found to return and give praise to God but this foreigner?”
Samaritans were aliens for Jews because, being mixed-race, the Jews did not consider them 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 physical healing, the Samaritan got physical-cum-spiritual recovery. People associated sin and guilt feelings with leprosy. Jesus gave the Samaritan wholistic healing and an entry to the Kingdom of God.
1. When we are in sin, we are in spiritual leprosy. Like the 10 lepers who moved as a group, often sinners also form teams
to commit sins. We can come out of sinful leprosy only with the power of Jesus. Like the ten lepers, let us cry out to Jesus asking for his mercy.
2. Jesus asked the lepers to go to the priests to get certified according to the prescriptions of the law. Their compliance with Jesus’ direction expressed their faith in Jesus. Their unquestioning obedience to the words of Jesus cured them of an incurable disease. As Christians, we need to believe and obey Jesus for our spiritual wellbeing.
3. When the Samaritan leper received healing from Jesus, he felt that he should return to thank Jesus, even though his former nine friends might have discouraged him from doing so. When someone receives an unmerited favour, he will be even more grateful to the benefactor. Jesus wanted his followers to show kindness, even to those who do not deserve our mercy.
4. Out of the ten who got cured, only the Samaritan was well disposed enough to return to Jesus to express his gratitude and offer worship to God. In addition to the physical healing, he now received open approval and salvation. We should not underestimate the smallest individual in society. Such people could turn out to be greater than us in God’s eyes.
5. Jesus was not above the very human need for gratefulness. In our life, we enjoy many good things – material and spiritual – for all of which we should thank God, not the least for His providential care in our lives.
6. We are obliged to many people who have guided us, served us, and helped in our upliftment throughout our lives. Are we grateful to them and do we express our gratitude to them?