Summary: All ten of the lepers were cured, but only one was healed.
Have you ever had to “suit up” to visit someone in the hospital? Sometimes in order to protect both the patient and the visitors, extensive preventative measures are taken. On some occasions I’ve had to put on a mask, gloves, head covering, booties and a protective gown. I felt like I was preparing to perform surgery. The patient is in an isolation ward. The risk of contagion makes such precautions necessary.
In this miraculous event, unique to Luke, ten lepers have a divine encounter…
Leprosy was a kind of living death in Bible times, a contagious skin disease that ravaged the body and rendered people ceremonially unclean. Leprosy was often considered a symbol of sin, since both results in separation. Anyone who came in contact with a leper was contaminated and would need to go through a ritual cleansing in order to participate in worship. There was also the threat of catching the dreaded disease. And so those afflicted were treated as outcasts, even by members of their own family. It was worse than being quarantined; lepers were required to stay away from other people; they were sent to colonies where they had to live apart from society (Lev 13:46). Notice in our Scripture passage that the lepers cried out to Jesus from a “distance”. They were used to having to put considerable space between them and healthy people.
Due to hostilities between Jews and Samaritans, on occasion Jesus and His disciples were prevented from traveling through Samaria, and so they made their way along the borderland between Samaria and Galilee. The exact location of this encounter is unknown. Jesus came upon a mixed company of lepers; their dreadful malady had broken down the barrier between Jews and Samaritans. Under normal conditions they would never live together, but their ethnic and religious differences no longer mattered. One lesson of this passage is that God’s grace is for everybody.
They call Jesus “master”, knowing His reputation for being in command of disease and death. They knew who Jesus was and what He could do for them. They recognized His authority. Their cry is similar to the famous “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” This is a prayer many believers pray daily.
Only people aware of their need, who see the enormity of their plight, and who are convinced that God hears and cares will pray. If we could see our souls as these lepers saw their bodies, we would earnestly pray and implore God to intervene.
I have a print of this scene in my home, an artist’s perception of how this scene must’ve looked. I had it framed when I became a hospital chaplain, to remind me of our Lord’s compassion. Looking a bit closer, we find a depiction of God’s power and our ingratitude. I have this picture also to remind me that we all have been afflicted with leprosy of one kind or another; we all know the pain of rejection and separation.
One of the principle messages of Jesus was that in God’s Kingdom, there are no undesirables, because He makes us clean and acceptable. We can’t clean ourselves up, but Jesus can. That’s both the bad news and the Good News: On our own we’re without hope, but Jesus brings us back, and heals us of the worst disease of all—sin. Our sins separate us from the Father, but the blood of Christ brings us back, reconciled.
Jesus doesn’t heal “on the spot”, but instead tells the lepers to go to the priest. Jesus was putting their faith to the test. As they turned to obey, they were healed. Also, a priest had to certify any healing before a leper could resume a normal life, reenter society and resume contact with other people.
It is discouraging to see that, in their joy over being healed, all but one of these lepers left without thinking to express gratitude. Only one of them returned to offer thanks…and note, a hated Samaritan, another kind of undesirable. Samaritans were regarded by most Jews as illegitimate half-breeds, and they were not welcome at the Temple. So they built their own atop Mt Gerizim, which further angered the Jews. Perhaps this is one reason this healed man came to Jesus; he would not have been welcome going to a Jewish priest, even cured of his disease.
Parents have this struggle with child-rearing, trying to teach gratitude, to get their kids to realize it is polite to say thank-you when receiving a gift. Some children resent having to express thanks and do so only under duress…and they miss the point. Parents want their children to do more than be courteous; they want them to be appreciative. People who feel entitled rarely thank anyone. Some people refuse to receive any act of kindness, so to keep from having to express thanks, and be beholden to others.