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The Ten Lepers

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I was actually mistaken in thinking that the events that Luke chronicles on Jesus’ last trip down to Jerusalem were in chronological order, as verse 11 shows us that this must have been earlier in the trip than , as Bethany is closer to Jerusalem. Therefore, the overall sections in Luke are chronological, but the individual pericopes are not. So, we must look at them thematically to see why Luke grouped certain sections together. To me, it is quite obvious that in these past few pericopes, Luke has been showing the rejection of Jesus by the Jews and the acceptance of Him by the outsiders, like Gentiles and Samaritans. There is also the recurring themes of possessions on earth versus the kingdom of heaven; riches on earth and riches in heaven. Luke is showing how Jesus flipped everything right side up that was upside down. He was setting the record straight, and Luke wanted to show that. In a way, a strong way, Luke is showing that God makes no exceptions as to who enters the kingdom of heaven, and that it is the outcast that usually enter in. This would have been important for Theophilus to know.

The Setting

Luke 17:11 CSB
11 While traveling to Jerusalem, he passed between Samaria and Galilee.
Timeline-wise, this takes place while Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem on His final trip there, which started in . As far as the location goes, Luke tells us that he passed between the region of Samaria and Galilee. He’s probably somewhere along this stretch of land here. The dynamic here would be very similar to the borders between Israeli and Palestinian controlled regions today. There is a mix of people from both groups, and the Jews tend to be better off financially than the Palestinians. There is a general tension between the groups, but life goes on day by day. The region of Galilee would have had quite a few Gentiles as well; it was even known as Galilee of the Gentiles. However, He is getting farther south, so there would have been more Jews in general. So, this is the general setting of the area.

The Scenario

Luke 17:12–13 CSB
12 As he entered a village, ten men with leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
As He is in this area and enters a village (something most Jews probably would not do, as they would prefer to pass through) ten men with leprosy met him. Now, leprosy was not necessarily what we call “Hansen’s disease” today, although it could have included it. Rather, it referred to any kind of infectious, serious skin disease. outlines all of the cases where leprosy can be diagnosed and when it is clean. The priest acts like a modern day doctor in these cases and gives the diagnosis. If it is diagnosed as leprosy, then gives the medical plan, which, unfortunately, was not therapeutic, but preventive:
Leviticus 13:45–46 CSB
45 “The person who has a case of serious skin disease is to have his clothes torn and his hair hanging loose, and he must cover his mouth and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ 46 He will remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He must live alone in a place outside the camp.
Leviticus 13:45-46
It seems kind of harsh, but really, this was the LORD’s way of caring for His people before the advents of modern medicine. There is a sense of caring for the greater good for the greater number of people. If they were allowed to just remain in the camp, then everybody would begin to be infected, and they would all die off eventually. God was giving them of His infinite wisdom so that they would know how to care for themselves and remain healthy. We even see that many Jews survived the Black Plague because of their practices of cleanliness. Unfortunately, they were then seen as scapegoats and massacred by the masses. So, we know that these Laws protected the overall population of Israel, but what about that individual who was a leper and outcast? What happened to him? They eventually became an afterthought and outcasts. They came to be despised and rejected. And Jesus came to those. He wasn’t contradicting God’s Law, but rather undoing the effects of sin. Where the Law had been preventive, Jesus was curative.
So, Jesus enters this village and ten men wit leprosy meet Him. Jesus enters the village and He sees ten men with torn clothes and disheveled hair and covered mouths crying, “Unclean, unclean!”. Unless this was a leper colony, these men are actually breaking the Law by entering this village, which is most likely the case. And they are actually not yelling, “Unclean!”. Rather, they raise their voices and cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”. They know who Jesus is, as His fame had spread far and wide by this point. They knew that Jesus was healing many lepers and sick people. They also call Him “Master” which means that He is in control. What are they acknowledging Him to be master over? Perhaps themselves. Perhaps all things. Perhaps over diseases. It is important to see that they know Whom they are addressing. They know that He has the authority over them and over their diseases.
Then they ask Jesus to have mercy on them. This phrase doesn’t make too much sense to us, because we think that the proper word here should be “show us grace.” But I have thought on this extensively before. Sure, mercy takes on a bit of the meaning of kindness and grace here, but it also carries its traditional meaning - not getting what one deserves or has coming to them. What they have coming to them is rejection and certain death. Jesus has the authority to change the course of this and keep them from getting what they have coming to them. Therefore, for Jesus to heal them is for Him to have mercy and pity upon them. This is why they shout out that He have mercy on them. This should be the cry of our heart too - that Jesus would keep us from things that would harm us; that He would show us this great mercy.
What will the response of Jesus be?

The Miracle

When He saw them, he told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” So, Jesus doesn’t even touch them or tell them they are healed. He looks way beyond that and commands them to go to the priest to be checked for the disease. It would be like someone having a damaged eye today and going to Jesus to be healed and He tells you to go to the doctor to get checked before you even come near Him. It would definitely be a challenge to their faith. Could it be that some of them left thinking that He had just blown them off? It is similar to what Elisha told Naaman when he came to him to be healed of his leprosy. He didn’t even talk to him, but told him to go wash 7 times in the Jordan river. Naaman got angry, but then relented and did it and was healed. Jesus topped even this as He didn’t have them do anything, but rather to go and check with the priest that they were healed, just as commanded. Jesus, in essence, tells them to go get checked to be cleared. It is like someone telling another to go to the doctor to go get a clean bill of health.
So they went; some probably believing, some doubting, some hoping, and maybe even some discouraged. But they did obey Jesus. If there was even a hope that they could be healed, they would do it. The fact that Luke says that they were on their way means that they did have hope. They did believe, to some extent. But trusting Jesus for a healing is not the most important thing, as we are going to see here. As they are on their way, they are cleansed from their leprosy. Imagine having a disease for a really long time, and then someone tells you to go get checked by a doctor, and on your way you are healed. That would be mind blowing! One minute you have leprosy all over your body, and the next minute it is gone. This is exactly what happened to these men.
What should their response have been? How do we respond when Jesus heals us?

The Response

Luke 17:15–16 CSB
15 But one of them, seeing that he was healed, returned and, with a loud voice, gave glory to God. 16 He fell facedown at his feet, thanking him. And he was a Samaritan.
But one leper, seeing that he was healed/cleansed, turned back and, with a loud voice, gave glory to God. One of them, as soon as noticed that he was healed, turned back and with great shouts gave glory to God. The rest continued on to the priest. I imagine him coming back and just shouting out praises to God like, “I waited so long; praise you YHVH! I was sick and was healed in an instant! You are good! You are glorious! You are able! You are kind and merciful! You showed me mercy! Thank you forever!”. He made sure that all people that could hear him knew that it was God who had healed him.
How did his body look? He fell facedown in worship at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him. Do you see what he just did? He was giving glory to God for healing him and he bowed in worship at the feet of Jesus, thanking Him for the healing. He is acknowledging that Jesus was the one who healed him. He is thanking, reverencing, and worshipping Jesus, and Jesus accepts it. He knew that it was because of Jesus that he was healed. His response was to go directly to Jesus and give Him glory.
Then Luke tells us that he was a Samaritan. They were the hated ones. They were the ungodly ones. They were the sinners. They were the traitors. They were the ones with the twisted theology. They were the ones who would terrorize you. They were pretty much seen like Arabs are by Jews today. Yet, not one of the Jewish lepers came back to glorify Jesus after being healed, only the Samaritan. That means that race has nothing to do with the condition of the heart. It doesn’t matter what the upbringing of a person is or their circumstances or their nurturing. If their heart has been softened by God, they will respond correctly. In fact, those who we think are most ready to receive God are sometimes the least ready.

The Master’s Response

Luke 17:17–19 CSB
17 Then Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Didn’t any return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he told him, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.”
How does Jesus respond to all of this? He asks three rhetorical questions. The first points out that ten were cleansed. The second points out that the other nine did not come. The third points out that only the foreigner returned to give glory to God. You see, it should have been the Jews who came back to give glory to God. They were the ones the Messiah was sent to. They were the one’s who knew God in His temple. They were the ones to whom the Law and Prophets were given. They were the chosen people. Yet, by their actions, they rejected Jesus, even after He healed them. I believe that Jesus spoke these three rhetorical questions not mainly for the Samaritan, but for His disciples. Now that they were believing, He was teaching them very important lessons about evangelism and the nature of salvation. If we look further into the second volume of this, the book of Acts, we see the strong emphasis that is placed on the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Jesus wanted (and Luke by proxy) His disciples to see that salvation was coming to all men everywhere. This is something we take for granted today in the West, but this would have been a very foreign concept to the Jews. We see how long it took for them to understand this in the book of Acts and the various letters from Paul to the churches in Galatia and Rome.
Jesus caps this thought by telling the Samaritan, healed leper to get up and go on his way. His faith has saved him. Jesus just declared that salvation is by faith, and not by works. And He just declared a Samaritan as saved. This broke down so many barriers and set so many things right. It really is earth shattering what Jesus just did hear. He broke down so many misconceptions that had been built up over the ages, because He operated in complete truth. And, although the disciples didn’t see it then, they would later remember these things and be able to agree with the Apostle Paul when he brought forth the doctrine of salvation by faith and that salvation had come to all men, everywhere.


So, how does this apply to us today?
First of all, it impacts us directly, because we are those Gentiles. We should rejoice because salvation has come to us and we should give glory to God by thanking Jesus for that salvation. What was closed to us before has now been made open. Jesus has brought us into the family.
Secondly, it shows us that salvation is not just for a specific group of people. Salvation could literally come to any man, woman, or child, anywhere and we should never discriminate as to who may be saved. We should never pass somebody by because of any of their external characteristics.
Thirdly, it shows the proper response to healing, blessing, and mercy from the Lord - worship and thanksgiving. We are to give God glory when He shows mercy to us, and we are to shout it aloud for all to hear.
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