Hello … my name is Joram. I was born and raised in the sleepy little Samaritan town of Shiloh. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. It’s about a 100 miles south of nowhere. The only people who know about Shiloh are the people like me who live there or the occasional stranger who is lost or just passing through.
I’ll never forget that night as long as I live. My wife and I had finally gotten the children to fall asleep and we were getting ready to go to bed ourselves when my wife asked me a question that would change my life forever: “Honey … what’s this on your back?”
It was a mole … surrounded by a patch of dry skin. I asked my wife to describe it to me … and then there was that deafening silence as she hesitated … and my stomach sank all the way to the floor.
“Honey? What does it look like?” Weakly … with a tremor of fear in her voice … she said: “You better go see the priest in the morning.”
Of course, I didn’t go but my wife kept asking and insisting that I go see the priest. One night she started crying and begged me to go see the priest. I didn’t want to admit it but I kept putting it off because I was terrified of what the priest would say. Typical guy, right?
And then I found another mole … just like the one on my back …. only this time it was on the back of my hand where I could see it … and I didn’t like what I saw … and then a few days later a dry patch showed up on my neck.
And so … with dread in my heart … I kissed my wife and my two boys good-bye in the morning and went to see the priest … and he confirmed my worse fear … LEPROSY! … a word that melted my heart like wax and turned my mouth to ash. “I’m sorry,” the priest said, “but you’ll have to move … you can come back if and when God decides to take this curse away from you.”
He just threw that out there like it was nothing. Move?! Move where? Just like that! I’m told that I’ve got leprosy and now I’ve got to move … leave everyone I love … leave the town I grew up in. What’s going to happen to my wife? My two boys? My elderly parents who live with us? What was going to happen to all of them after I “move”?
The thought of it tore my heart out. I had lived in that same house all my life … as did my father and his father before him. I worked the same fields that had been in my family for generations. I drank from the same well every day. I knew every street and every house in Shiloh and who lived in them. I celebrated wedding, funerals, births, and bar mitzvahs with them and they with me.
And now … now I was going to have to leave town and never see any of them again. I just couldn’t fathom it. Why was God so mad at me? Why was He smashing my whole world into tiny little pieces … taking away everyone and everything that was so dear to me? What could I have possible done to make God so angry with me? I’m not perfect … Lord knows … but the Lord also knows my heart. I tried to keep the law … prayed every day … especially the “Shema.” I kept all the holy days. I obeyed my parents growing up and was taking care of them in their old age … was never unfaithful to my wife … was bringing my boys up in the ways of the Lord … never harmed or cheated anyone … was always ready to help a friend or a neighbor in need. I was a good, descent, obedient, God-fearing Samaritan. It just didn’t make any sense.
And then the temple guards showed up. They let me pack a few things … kiss and hug my wife and children and parents good-bye … and then escorted me out of town. We walked for three days until we arrived at a clump of dilapidated houses and tents that could be called a “village” … if you stretched the definition of a village as far as it would go.
It was a God-forsaken place for God-forsaken people right on the border between Samaria and Judah. And now this God-forsaken leper colony was my new home and these God-forsaken lepers were now my friends and neighbors.
I was given a hut to live in … literally four walls and a roof. It reminded me of the stable attached to my house back in Shiloh … only the stable back in Shiloh was a little bigger and smelled of animals. This place smelled of death. I got it because the former resident, Micah, had passed away a few days earlier.
I cried myself to sleep every night for weeks … until I ran out of tears. Every night I would worry and pray for my family. They knew what had happened to me but they had no idea where I was … and even if they did, they couldn’t come and see me because of the possible risk of infection. I didn’t even know there was a leper colony on the border of Samaria until the temple guards brought me here … and, as much as I wanted to see my family, I never wanted them to see me in this sad place with all these sad, sick, dying people. The stench of sickness and rotting flesh was everywhere and death hung over the whole place like a dark, wet shroud.
I found whatever work I could anywhere that I could. Work! More like slave labor I were to be honest. As you can imagine, there wasn’t a big demand for field hands and day laborers with leprosy … and those who would hire us exploited us … big time! But what could I do? Nobody cared about us. I sent what little I could to my family.
Every night I would pray to God to remove this curse from me … and every morning it was still there … slowly getting worse. Once I went to a Greek health spa … God forgive me … called an “asklepion” (as-ka-lep-eon). The Greek farmer that I worked for once in a while swore by them … said that they had cured his chronic headaches. I knew that my family could use the money but I was desperate. If they could cure my leprosy then I could go home and take of them again, so I figured it was worth the risk. For two weeks I was made to sit in tubs of foul-smelling bath salts and take slimy mineral mud baths. They steamed me … they poured cold water on me … gave me awful tasting potions .. wrapped me in leaves … smeared poultices all over me. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I even let them make sacrifices to their god “Ashkelon” on my behalf … God forgive me again!
Of course, nothing worked … and my leprosy continued to spread. At least the Greek tried to help. My fellow Samaritans quoted scripture at me … calling my affliction a “curse from God.” Leprosy was God’s way of punishing me for my sins. Yeah … well … if that were true then why did my family have to suffer for my sins. Was God mad at them too? Like I said, it just make any sense.
Everywhere that I went people avoided me. I had to cry out “tami, tami!” … “unclean, unclean!” … so they wouldn’t accidently brush up against me and get contaminated. While it bothered me, I understood because I used to avoid the poor souls who cried out “unclean” whenever I went to Alexandrium or Neopolis.
Days turned into weeks … weeks into months … months into years … and a year felt like an eternity, trust me. I was going through the motions. I was breathing … but as far as I was concerned, I was merely a dead man walking. I watched the leprosy spread down my arms … spread over my chest and back and start spreading towards my head and down towards my legs.
One day, as I was sitting outside by my hut, I saw Hiram rushing by. I called out to him, “Hey, my friend, what’s the big hurry?” “Jesus is coming,” he shouted back. “Jesus?” I asked. “Who is this ‘Jesus’?” “Jesus is a Jewish prophet,” my friend explained between breaths. “A miracle worker! They say that He’s healed all kinds of people with all kinds of illnesses and diseases … including leprosy!”
“Yeah,” I thought, “you hurry on my misguided friend. Like some Jew … prophet or otherwise … would ever help a Samaritan … especially a Samaritan with leprosy. Dream on, Hiram,” I thought. “Dream on!” But as I watched my neighbors head down the road one by one … some limping, some running … I figured what the hay, right? I had nothing else to do … might as well go kill some time seeing what all the excitement was about.
When we got to where He was and I saw Him … wow! I can’t begin to describe it. A peace and a hope came over me … strong … like a wave. I hadn’t felt anything close to it since I found out I had leprosy and had been relocated to this death camp. There was something about Him ... something mysterious … powerful … that just seemed to flow out of Him and into the crowd that surrounded Him. I can’t describe it to you … you just had to be there.
Obviously, as lepers, we couldn’t just go up to Him or be near Him so we began shouting and calling out to Him at the top of our lungs … hoping that He would hear us over the noise and commotion of the crowd that surrounded Him. I just knew in my heart … I could feel it in the depth of my soul … that this man … this prophet of God … could heal me by a touch, by a word … I didn’t know how or care how … I just knew that somehow He could and would do it. So I joined with my other God-forsaken brothers and we shouted as if our lives depended on it. We didn’t shout “tami! tami!” We shouted: “Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!”
Have pity on us. Have pity on me.
I can’t explain what happened next. I don’t know how but He heard us over the noise and clamor of the crowd and turned to face us and said: “Go! Show yourself to the priests.” Even though He was still pretty far away, it sounded as loud and as clear as if He had come over and was standing right before us. I know I’m not crazy because my friends all heard it too. “Go! Show yourself to the priests.”
That was it. He didn’t wave His hand over us. He didn’t chant some magical incantation or cast a spell over us. He made no special pleas or prayers to God Almighty … no potions … no elixirs … no poultices … no smelly mud baths … no steam room … just a command to go and show ourselves to the priests.
The gentle power in His voice left us speechless. We all silently turned and began heading towards the temple … the Jews towards Jerusalem … and the rest of us towards the temple at Mt. Gerizim … and with every step I took, the leprosy retreated from my body … it started disappearing from my legs and arms. I watched as the leprosy shrunk down to the size of the original mole on my back and hand … and then … disappear completely! It completely disappeared on all ten of us.
As we were jumping and shouting and crying and hugging and singing, it hit me. I knew what was different, what was so special about Him … and I had to go back and throw myself down at His feet and worship Him.
Ten lepers were healed but only one came back … and for some reason we assume that the other lepers were all Jews. Maybe it was because Luke makes a point of identifying him as a Samaritan in verse 16. The truth is, however, that we don’t know how many of the lepers were Jewish and how many were Samaritans. Given the location of the leper colony on the border of Judah and Samaria, we could assume that the colony was a mix of Jews and Samaritans, amen? I mean, think about it. Why was the colony on the border of Samaria and Judah? Because Jews were not allowed in Samaria and lepers were not welcome in Judah … so they were between a rock and hard place, so to speak … and the same was true for the Samaritan lepers. They were not welcome in Judah and they were not welcome in their home country either. So, the Jewish lepers were forced to live on the border of Judah and the Samaritan lepers had to live on the border of Samaria … and because of their leprosy, they had no choice but to live together and die together.
Look at verse 14 closely. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the “priests.” The word “priests” is plural. You only needed to show yourself to one priests be declared clean. So, let’s say for the sake of today’s sermon that there were seven Samaritan lepers and three Jewish lepers. As they obeyed Jesus’ command to “go,” seven of them … the Samaritan lepers … would have headed towards the temple on Mt. Gerizim … and the three Jewish lepers would have headed towards the Temple in Jerusalem. One group would show themselves to a priest in Samaria … the other group would show themselves to a priest in Jerusalem.
Why is this so important? Well … so often I think we mistake the reason that Luke points out that this leper was a foreigner or Samaritan. I really don’t believe it was to shame the Jews. I think Luke did it to make a key, significant theological point.
Remember the Samaritan woman at the well and the little theological discussion that she had with Jesus? “Sir … I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem” (John 4:19-20). Do you remember Jesus’ answer? “Woman … believe me … the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor Jerusalem” (John 4:21). Where was Jesus when He healed the 10 lepers? Neither in Samaria nor Judah! Neither in the Temple in Jerusalem nor the temple at Mt. Gerizim.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that she worshiped what she did not know (John 4:22) … just as the 10 lepers leave to worship what they do not know … just as there are times when perhaps we worship what we do not know. “But the hour is coming,” Jesus told the woman at the well, when we won’t have to go and make sacrifices at the temple because true worshipers … like Joram, the one leper who returned to worship Jesus … “will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these who worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-25).
As these lepers headed toward their respective temples, they are healed … and one of them comes back … and what happens is a beautiful, profound spiritual drama. Jesus asks: “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” (Luke17:17). I have no doubt that those other nine were bursting with joy and relief and thanksgiving, do you? I’m sure they were dancing and skipping and hugging and singing God’s praises all they way to their respective temples. They did what every good, descent, observant, God-fearing religious person would do. If I am ever cured of a flesh-eating disease or if anyone in my family or circle of friends are ever cured of a flesh-eating disease … guess where this good, descent, observant, God-fearing religious person is going to be and what I’m going to be doing? I’m gonna be right here dancing and singing and praising God at the top of my voice with all that I’ve got, amen?
I can picture Joram walking away with the other former Samaritan lepers … singing … a spring in his step to match the joy in his heart … when a light bulb suddenly comes on over his head. “Hey, wait a minute! What are we doing? Why are we going all the way to the Temple to have ourselves declared clean? The One who made us clean … the one who healed us … is right here!”
Why does Jesus tell them to go and show themselves to the priests? Because He knows that they are good, descent, obedient, God-fearing religious people who have been taught to obey the law all their lives and that they would want to do what good, descent, observant religious people would do … which is go to the House of the LORD to praise Him and thank Him.
Now … here’s something that you don’t usually hear much about. You see, you not only went to the Temple to offer sacrifices for your sins … get this … you also went to the Temple to offer up sacrifices of thanksgiving. If God healed you … if your crops or flocks were bountiful … when God answered your prayers … guess what? You went to the Temple and offered up a sacrifice of thanksgiving. If you want to learn more about the various Temple sacrifices of thanksgiving, go check out Leviticus 7:11-15.
Now … the priest could declare you clean or unclean but he couldn’t HEAL you, could he? All he could do was act as an interpreter of God’s activity … such as declaring a person clean or unclean … and then act as intermediary to offer up a person’s sacrifices … whether it be a sacrifice of petition to placate God’s wrath or to give God praise for turning His wrath away. Remember … leprosy was seen as a sign of God’s wrath … God’s displeasure … His judgment. Sometimes God would accept your sacrifice of repentance and heal you. I mean … somebody must of gotten cleansed or healed before Jesus showed up because the law allowed the priest to declare a person clean or unclean. If leprosy … if God’s wrath … were permanent and immutable, then the only thing that a priest could do would be to declare you “unclean” and send you off to suffer or die, understand?
If leprosy was a sign of God’s displeasure, then His healing was a sign of your return into His favor and good graces. Ten lepers set off to do what Jesus commanded. They set off for the Temple to be declared clean and to offer up sacrifices of thanksgiving … but one of them gets it! If leprosy is a sign of God’s displeasure, then who is the only one who can remove the curse of leprosy? Oh, yeah! God!
During His earthly ministry, how many times did Jesus say to someone “Your sins are forgiven” and they were healed? And what was the reaction of the good, descent, observant God-fearing religious leaders? “What?! What are you saying?! Who do you think that you are?! That’s BLASPHEMY! Only GOD can forgive and remove a person’s sins!” And yet … the evidence is right there, staring them in the face. A cripple man picks up his mat and jogs home. A man born blind sees the faces of his parents for the first time in his life. What more proof do you need, amen? And this one leper gets it. He is the living proof that Jesus IS God. Why go all the way to the Temple to see God … why go all the way to the Temple to praise God … when He is right here? Ten lepers called out to Jesus and they were healed … all of them … what more proof do you need that Jesus is God, amen?
So why didn’t the other nine come back? Because they didn’t get it. But we are hardly in a position to condemn them. Remember when Jesus asked His Disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” … “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah or one of the ancient prophets” (Luke 9:18-19). Now, remember … the Disciples were with Jesus on the border between Judah and Samaria. They were with Jesus when He forgave sins and healed people and even brought a dead person back to life … and yet, they didn’t get it. When Jesus asks them … His Disciples … who THEY thought He was, only one Disciple … Peter … declared that He was the Messiah of God (Luke 9:18-20).
As these other nine men made their way to their respective temples, they were on their way to do what any good, descent, obedient, observant religious person would do. They were on their way to the Temple to thank God for healing them THROUGH His PROPHET, Jesus!
“Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” Jesus asks (Luke 17:17). Listen closely to what Jesus says next. “Was none of them found to return” and do what? “Give praise!” “Was none of them found to return and give praise” to whom? “Was none of them found to return to give praise to God” (Luke 17:18).
Ten left to give thanks and praise to God in the Temple but none of them “returned” to give thanks and praise to Jesus, who had just healed them. None of them “returned” to give praise and thanks to Jesus, the Son of God who was right there on the border between Judah and Samaria.
One out of 10. How many thousands came to see Jesus? How many did He heal? How many saw Him heal? But how many got it? How many made the connection between Jesus and God? One in ten? One in a hundred? One in a thousand? Nicodemus got it. Matthew the tax collector got it. Jairus got it. The Centurion got it. Mary Magdalene got it. Peter … and then finally the rest of the Disciples … got it. And this one leper … this foreigner … this Samaritan … got it.
Jesus says to this blessed man who is now healed: “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). Oh, how many Bible scholars and theologians have struggled with Jesus’ command to this fortunate man! Were not all ten lepers healed? And so the explanation that has taken root over the centuries is that Jesus healed all ten lepers of their physical affliction but only healed this one leper of his spiritual affliction or afflictions.
Ah … I’m not sure I like what that says about Jesus … that He held back on the other nine … that He only ‘rewarded’ the one who came back. That hardly seems loving or fair, does it? That doesn’t seem like Jesus to me. The nine were like so many that Jesus healed. They were willing to give thanks to God. Their only shortcoming was in seeing Jesus merely as a prophet … an instrument of God’s healing. They did what any good, descent, obedient, observant, religious person would do … they went to the Temple singing God’s praises … no doubt singing the praises of His prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, too. They showed themselves to the priest and then they offered up sacrifices of thanksgiving to God.
As I said before … leprosy was an outward sign of a person’s inward sin. When Jesus said “your sins are forgive,” He healed the outward signs of a person’s internal sin by healing their inward sin. These men were lepers … a sign of their sin … and now their leprosy was gone …. an outward sign of their inward spiritual healing. So what was different about the leper who returned? Why would Jesus say to him, “your faith has made you well?” (Luke 17:19). The other nine had faith … faith in God … but this man had faith in Jesus Christ … God Incarnate! The other nine healed lepers will continue their whole lives doing what grateful, descent, obedient, God-fearing religious people do … they will continue to go to the Temple. They will continue to let the priest act as an intermediary and pray and make sacrifices to God on their behalf … and never know what this one healed leper now knows … that you don’t have to go to the Temple to find God … that you don’t need a priest to speak to God or sacrifice to God on your behalf ... that you don’t have to go to Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim to have an encounter with the Living God … that you don’t have to sacrifice bulls or rams or doves or grain and oil to get into God’s good graces or turn His wrath from you … because the High Priest of Heaven … the Perfect Lamb of God … has already taken away our sins and healed us spiritually. With every pound of the nail, our sins disappeared. With every drop of his blood our spirits became whiter and cleaner and brighter. When He walked away from the empty tomb we were spiritually new creations … like Joram … with hearts and souls as pure and clean as the day that we were born, amen?