On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee and encountered ten lepers. The ten lepers stayed at a distance from Jesus because they were considered contagious. The Bible does not name these ten lepers or fully describe their conditions, but they knew that they were doomed to be isolated from their families and society because of the destructive and debilitating disease of leprosy.
During Bible times, there was no cure or treatment for leprosy. The old testament law prescribed that those with skin lesions must go before the priest to be examined. Those with potentially contagious diseases were isolated from their community for a time, but many with leprosy were isolated for the rest of their lives. The priest in the Jewish culture was the one person to examine and say whether someone was clean (or free from disease) and able to return from isolation or remained unclean and had to continue their isolation from family and friends. It was often quite devastating to families to lose a family member to leprosy. Lepers often could not continue in their workplace and some lived in leper colonies where everyone had the disease. Lepers who traveled were required to notify those that may come near them by shouting “unclean, unclean” so that others without the disease wouldn’t be exposed to them. There was a considerable stigma for the leper in addition to the disability, deformities, and destruction of the body that came with leprosy.
The ten lepers discussed in Luke 17 had heard enough about Jesus that they called out in a loud voice saying, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” A few things are very interesting about their statement. First, it seems that they all in a coordinated fashion shouted out to Jesus. They seemed to know or have heard who Jesus was and called him by name. Second, they call Jesus Master indicating that they consider him to have rule and power over them. Not everyone considered Jesus their Master or respected his authority, but these ten lepers did. Third, the men don’t specifically ask to be healed, but that Jesus have pity on them. Leprosy can be a severely debilitating causing terrible skin lesions, vision problems, muscle weakness, nerve damage, and the loss of limbs. We don’t know what stages of leprosy these ten men were in, but they begged for pity. Pity is said to be a sympathetic sorrow often leading to relief, aid or mercy. The lepers wanted that. They knew they had an incurable disease, but they wanted whatever Jesus could do to give them relief, aid, and mercy.
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t say he will heal them, but he says, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” Jesus knows that to be accepted back into their culture and society, they must be approved by the priests. Luke goes on to say that “as they went, they were cleansed.” All ten left Jesus headed to the priest with their leprosy, but on the way, they were cleansed. Leprosy leaves many marks on the skin, but after encountering Jesus, they knew before they had time to get to their priests that they had been healed. All ten of them. What an amazing miracle and wonderful thing for these men to know that soon they would be allowed and welcomed back into their communities and families.
One of the lepers, when he saw that he was healed, came back praising God and threw himself at the feet of Jesus thanking him for healing him. The Bible describes this thankful leper as a Samaritan. Most Jews didn’t and wouldn’t associate with Samaritans, but Jesus did. It is assumed that the other lepers were probably Jewish, since other nations did not have in their law to present themselves to the priest to be judged unclean or clean.
Next, Jesus asked the thankful Samaritan praising God at his feet, “Were not all ten cleansed?” It seems a rhetorical question as Jesus goes on to ask, “Where are the other nine?” And “Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Jesus intimates that the Jewish lepers should have known to praise God and be thankful for healing. It seems that Jesus would have expected the Samaritan to not praise God or thank him, but Jesus is surprised at his own people. They had all just called him ‘Master.’ They all had some expectation that Jesus could help them or they wouldn’t have cried out. Yet when Jesus did help them, nine of the ten didn’t take the time to be thankful to him. They couldn’t be bothered to go back and show their gratitude.
What about us today? Do we pray for God’s help and never acknowledge that it came? Do we ignore the blessings our heavenly Father brings us each and every day? Do we give credit to someone or something else, after we’ve made our appeals to God for healing? Do we assume it is simply our good luck that helped things turn out well? Do we ignore God after our appeals to Him?
Look at the statistics of gratitude in this story. Only one out of ten said thank you. Jesus never heard back from 90% of those he healed in this case. Why? Were they just that selfish or self-centered? Did they not connect their request for pity with the removal of the plague of leprosy from their bodies? Do we sometimes get so excited that a trouble or trauma is over that we just want to move on and forget it? Jesus seems disappointed and specifically disappointed in his own people as he asked, Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” What does this say about God’s people, who supposedly know and follow him? What does it say about the foreigner?
In the region of Tyre and Sydon, another foreigner came to Jesus for help and healing. She was a Canaanite mother begging Jesus to help her daughter who was demon possessed and suffering terribly. Jesus said that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, but as the woman begged, “Lord, help me.” Jesus explained again that it was not right to take the children’s bread and give it to dogs. But the Canaanite woman said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus replied to the woman that she had great faith and granted her request and in that moment for her daughter’s healing.
The Jewish teachers and leaders of Jesus’ day often claimed to be the children of Abraham and to only worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were a proud people and boasted in their Jewishness and relationship with God, yet they weren’t really obedient to him, following him, or even grateful to him for his blessings. God addresses this many times with them, and I see a lesson here for us, as Christians.
Are we grateful? Are we thankful? Do our friends and family know that we hold God and Jesus Christ in high esteem? Do our friends, family and others know that we give thanks to God for the food we eat? Do our colleagues, customers, and even those who can’t stand us, know who we call Lord? Do we thank God for our jobs and financial provision? Do we praise God for healing after we’ve prayed for it, or do we assume it was the doctor’s skill, or the new medicine, or luck, or a simple quirk of ‘nature’ that healed us or our loved one?
If you were one of the ten lepers, what group would you be in? Would you be like the one Samaritan or the nine Jews?
We pray to God for help, then don’t acknowledge that He did help. Why is that? Are we embarrassed? Do we really believe He can, will, and does work today in the lives of men and women? If we don’t believe He is working and answering prayers today, why do we pray? Do we or can we understand how everything works? Of course not, but if we have prayed for something to happen and it happens, why not assume it is from God? He is, by the way, in charge of EVERYTHING! God cares for us down to knowing the number of hairs on our head. As we clean the lost hairs out of our hairbrush at night, do we understand that God knows how many hairs are in the brush and how many hairs are left on our head? Do we see the detail, care, and specificity with which the God of the universe has for each and every person? Matthew chapter 10 says that not one sparrow falls that God doesn’t know about it, and goes on to say that each of us are worth more than many sparrows.
For those who don’t know Jesus, He is the good news/the Gospel. No more is there a separation between people groups. Jesus came for all – for Jew and Gentile, slave and free, for you and for me.
All of us are sinners and have rebelled against God. All of us are on our way to Hell. Hell is the just destination and penalty for our sin. All sin is rebellion against God and His authority. All of us – (every single person and all of mankind throughout every age) have committed treason against the Lord. Our rebellion is clear, but thanks be to God, the penalty and just consequence for our sin has been paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
An eternal death separating us from God for all time is no longer necessary, if we will accept the gift of salvation that comes through Christ Jesus alone. The choice is ours. God will not force us to accept salvation from our sin. He will allow us to proceed on our own way, if that is what we choose. God doesn’t send anyone to Hell. People choose to go there of their own accord. God stands at the door and knocks, but He will only come in if we open the door to accept and surrender to His will and way. That’s the deal. We can go our way or His way.
Long ago, some lepers were healed from a physical disease because they sought help, cried out, and asked for mercy from the Lord. Long ago, a mother secured health and safety for her child from demons because she had faith in and sought help from the One she knew had the power to save her child. Today, God still waits and wants all who will come to Him in faith with submissive and grateful hearts to live in His way and walk in His will in this life. Won’t you come like the leper and the mother to the feet of Jesus? Won’t you look to him for help and healing? Won’t you give God all praise for all He has done and is doing in your life? Won’t you trust and draw near to Him? He loves and cares for you more than you can even imagine?
Won’t you, think on these things…
Robin Robbins House ©️
Image by Barbara Jackson from Pixabay