Ten Lepers

Ordinary 28C

Luke 17: 11 19


In the early verses of Luke 17 we read of the Apostles asking our Lord to "increase our faith". They wanted to be able to forgive and trust as he required, but they had found his standards a "tall order", as we might say. His reply emphasised that to be a believer is not a matter for self-congratulation, because to be so is in fact a privilege, and its demands, merely one's duties.

St Luke carries on in a similar theme with an incident, almost like a parable, which continues not only to strengthen their faith, but also to expand its scope.

Some Notes On The Text

Verse 11

To set the scene we find Jesus now on his way to Jerusalem, travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. The usual road in travelling from the north of Palestine would be through Galilee first, and then through Samaria. However, having been barred from the latter, he travelled along the boundary between the two regions, to the river Jordan, and then followed the course of that river down to Jericho, at which location we find him in the next chapter. (Remember, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem — his meandering spiritual journey, and it is nearing culmination.)

Verse 13

The group stood at a distance, and called out (i.e. called across to him) in a loud voice "Jesus, Master, have pity (or mercy) on us." The scholars tell us the Greek text indicates their words suggest respectful (and hopeful) submission rather than an intimate relationship or any degree of following. By this time our Lord's reputation as a worker of miracles had certainly spread widely. Their plea is a traditional request to be healed.

Verse 14

Jesus did not immediately notice them, but when he saw them he gave them a very specific direction without any elaboration:

"Go, show yourselves to the priests."

This order is implicitly a promise of healing and they know it, and respond accordingly. Normally this order would have been more appropriate after a cure, but these men ask no questions and make no demands — they all trust.

Ryle has a helpful note on this verse.

Show yourselves unto the priests. The meaning of this direction will be obvious to all who are familiar with the 13th and 14th chapters of Leviticus. The priests were specially appointed by God to be the judges of all leprous cases, to decide whether the leper was clean or unclean, cured or uncured. Moreover there was a special injunction to attend to the rules laid down in Leviticus about leprosy, in the book of Deuteronomy: "Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you." (Deu.24: 8.)

A Jewish leper would doubtless catch at our Lord's direction to "Go to the priests," and accept it as a hint that he would hear good tidings on showing himself to them.

It has been doubted whether our Lord meant only the Jewish priests, in giving this direction. Some have thought that He meant the Samaritan leper to go to the Samaritan priests on Mount Gerizim. This however appears exceedingly improbable. There is no clear proof that the Samaritan priests undertook the decision of leprous cases.

The text continues:

"As they went, they were cleansed".

The delayed cure took place during their act of trust and obedience. Probably it was not far down the road, as our Lord was still to be found in the same location soon after.

Verses 15 and 16

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He threw himself at the feet of Jesus, thanking him. He was a Samaritan. (almost the equivalent of a foreign pagan. Refer to Note On The Samaritans from Geldenhuys' commentary on Luke).

The other nine rushed off to be formally restored to their society so they could enjoy its benefits. (The structure of the Greek text indicates they were all cleansed at the same time.) Their ingratitude shows how little people can profit from exposure to miracles when it is really only the healing they are seeking: not the healer.

The Samaritan, on the other hand, reacted quite differently. His first thoughts were turned to his deliverer: he was so overwhelmed with gratitude for God's mercy that he forgot all protocol about mixing with a Jew. All he could think of was in some way returning the kindness. Even at this exciting time, for him, the Healer took priority over the healing. This is a special point our Lord is demonstrating to his committed followers.

Verses 17 and 19

Jesus was moved by this man's warmth and humility. Were not all ten made clean?" he asked, "Where are the other nine? Can it be true that no one was found to return and give praise except this foreigner?" (In other words, "Shouldn't they know better?")

We should note that the Jewish use of the term "stranger" or "foreigner" means literally: One of another nation".

Verse 19

Our Lord then released the Samaritan from further display of gratitude and told him to go on his way. Then he made a most amazing statement — not that his obedience led to his leprosy being cured, but much more spectacularly:

"Your faith has made you whole".

In other words, when you "saw" that you were healed, you beheld with the eye of inward faith, and you were the only one who did. This faith saved you — leading not only to your body being healed, but your soul also. All were cured, but you have been healed in the true and fullest sense of the word:

Geldenhuys has a beautiful note on the verse

19 He thereupon commands the cleansed Samaritan to arise and assures him that his faith has saved him — not merely cured him of his bodily sickness, but saved him in the fullest sense of the word, because he really believes in Him and has entered into a personal relation with Him. Although the other nine had also received their healing, they had no further connection with Him owing to the superficiality of their faith ("which was merely a belief in miracles") and their ingratitude.


Also from Norval Geldenhuys

He who has received only blessings from His hand and does not come close to Him in humble but heartfelt gratitude will always forgo what is the highest and most glorious in life. But he who, on receiving gifts out of His hand, turns to the Giver Himself in real gratitude, will partake of fullness of life and happiness. There is nothing that can bind one more closely to Him than sincere gratitude "we love him because he first loved us".

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