The Ten Lepers (and so much more)
Luke’s story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers is often used show how we should give thanks for God’s amazing blessings. Well, the story is about that - but there’s much more here……
In order to better understand what Jesus was saying 2000 years ago, it’s often important to make sure we understand the cultural and religious context of the day. In this story we need to know a bit about the Samaritans and a bit about those with skin diseases.
First - about the Samaritans. In 597 B.C. king Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire overran this region. In the conquest virtually every educated and skilled Jew was forcibly relocated to the eastern kingdoms. People from the east were then moved into Samaria (2 Kings). These new inhabitants dominated the remaining Jews and, over time, the Hebrew bloodline was lost. Interestingly, in many ways the religious perspective of this new group aligned with much of Judaism, holding the first five books of the Old Testament as sacred. Later, when God moved king Cyrus to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, the Samaritans wanted to help in the effort - they saw themselves as worshiping the same God. The returning Jews, however, rejected their offer and viewed them as a compromised and unclean people. Generally, the Jewish attitude toward the Samaritan was pretty hateful. The Samaritans were relegated to almost sub-human status. No self-respecting Jew would be seen befriending a Samaritan.
Now - skin diseases. Various skin diseases placed people in the “unclean” category of society. These ailments relegated them to lives of isolation and stigma outside the community. These outcasts often lead desperate lives of minimal existence and were required to keep distance between themselves and anyone without disease.
On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met be ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” - ESV
First - As these ten lepers plead for healing, Jesus does something very interesting. He tells them to go and show themselves to the priest. This is the right thing to do for someone that had recovered from a skin disease (Lev 14:1-32). The priest would verify the healing and the individual could reenter society. However, these ten had not been healed. We know the end of the story, but they did not. While Jesus’ instruction to them was not difficult, it required that they trust him. The ten lepers first obeyed Jesus and the miracle followed.
God expects us to act on his truth (obey) and trust for the rest. The process through which God changes his children into loving, gracious, prayerful, Jesus-following ministers is always faith-filled. The goal is a life that follows Jesus first and then trusting him for the results. This walk of faith:
1. Will NOT look like the walk most people are taking
2. Will ALWAYS result in action - faith is not simply a theological understanding
Second observation - Through their obedience the lepers were healed and I imagine “the nine” started running toward Jerusalem - but one did not. The Samaritan turned around and ran toward Jesus and in humility fell on his face in thanks and worship.
The religious and societal structures of the day provided the environment through which the nine Jews saw life as they thought it should be. Jesus’ healing allowed them to reconnect with the culture they loved. This was a dream-come-true. Once desperately in need - now restored to what they held dear. Jesus was the means for them to regain what they held as most valuable.
The Samaritan saw the greatest value in the healer, not the healing.
Those who truly follow Jesus will embrace him as their greatest value. This will result in a very loose grip on the gift and a very tight grip on the Giver. The gift is seen as a blessing to be used for the Kingdom and the giver as the One of ultimate value.
One last observation - In this story we see ten unclean people that had been relegated out of society. They lived separate, impoverished, lives with little hope of ever being accepted into the mainstream culture. It’s interesting that in this painful, hopeless environment the nine Jews and the Samaritan are fighting for their lives together - they are brothers.
Once Jesus healed these ten, the Samaritan lost his brothers - he was now healed, but to the Jews he was still a “dog”. They would not celebrate God’s miracle with him, they would only celebrate with those who were part of their group.
It broke Jesus’ heart that the nation God created and blessed, rejected their purpose. Israel always seemed to find more value in their culture and religiosity than in following the heart of God. They were designed to be the beacon that showed God to the world through Jesus - but they would not embrace God’s call. While this did not detour God’s plan to save the masses, Israel would not be the messenger.
Are you aligned with God’s vision for your life? As those who follow Jesus, our greatest joy will be found when we live lives of faith, find greatest value in the Giver and not the gifts, and pursue the work we were created to do.