24 Ten Lepers
Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him ~ and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and Go; your faith has made you well.”
Under Jewish law, lepers were outcasts. In Lev 13: 45-46 the rules regarding treatment of lepers are clearly laid down.
In many ways, being deemed unclean must have been worse than the disease itself. It meant that the sufferer was separated from family and friends, indeed from all human contact. Imagine what that must have been like. Humans are by nature social creatures and few of us do well in isolation. Hence its use as a form of punishment and torture.
Imagine, also, what it must have been like for the family. How does one bear to see the spouse, parent, child or sibling whom we love, cast out in that way?
Not only that but wherever they went, lepers were met with fear and often hatred and repulsion. The human race was never good at coping with those who were ‘different’ and if they presented a risk to our own health, whether real or perceived, then tolerance and compassion were the first things to go out of the window. What an awful life it must have been for sufferers.
Furthermore, there was no spiritual help or support to be had. They were banned from involvement in worship and left in a spiritual desert.
Such was our Lord’s compassion that he broke the rules of Jewish society and actually touched the leper. No Jew would willingly touch someone deemed unclean for it made them in turn unclean and necessitated elaborate, time-consuming and expensive rituals in order to return themselves to a state of cleanliness. Without this they could not partake in worship or social interaction.
Hatred Between Jews and Samaritans
Hatred between Jews and Samaritans was fierce and long-standing. In some ways, it dated all the way back to the days of the patriarchs. Jacob (or Israel) had twelve sons, whose descendants became twelve tribes. Joseph, his favourite, was despised by the other brothers (Gen. 37:3-4), and they attempted to do away with him.
But God intervened and not only preserved Joseph’s life, but used him to preserve the lives of the entire clan. Before his death, Jacob gave Joseph a blessing in which he called him a “fruitful bough by a well” (Gen. 49:22). The blessing was fulfilled, as the territory allotted to the tribes of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim (“doubly fruitful”) and Manasseh, was the fertile land that eventually became Samaria.
Later, Israel divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom, called Israel, established its capital first at Shechem, a revered site in Jewish history, and later at the hilltop city of Samaria.
In 722 B.C. Assyria conquered Israel and took most of its people into captivity. The invaders then brought in Gentile colonists “from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim” (2 Kin. 17:24) to resettle the land. The foreigners brought with them their pagan idols, which the remaining Jews began to worship alongside the God of Israel (2 Kin. 17:29-41). Intermarriages also took place (Ezra 9:1-10:44;Neh. 13:23-28 ).
Meanwhile, the southern kingdom of Judah fell to Babylon in 600 B.C. Its people, too, were carried off into captivity. But 70 years later, a remnant of 43,000 was permitted to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The people who now inhabited the former northern kingdom—the Samaritans—vigorously opposed the repatriation and tried to undermine the attempt to re-establish the nation. For their part, the full-blooded, monotheistic Jews detested the mixed marriages and worship of their northern cousins. So walls of bitterness were erected on both sides and did nothing but harden for the next 550 years.
There are countless modern parallels to the Jewish-Samaritan enmity—indeed, wherever peoples are divided by racial and ethnic barriers. Perhaps that’s why the Gospels and Acts provide so many instances of Samaritans coming into contact with the message of Jesus. It is not the person from the radically different culture on the other side of the world that is hardest to love, but the nearby neighbour whose skin colour, language, rituals, values, ancestry, history, and customs are different from one’s own.
The continuing hostility between Jews and Samaritans is clearly seen in the New Testament. One of the worst insults that hostile Jews could offer to Jesus was to call him a Samaritan (John 8:48). When Jesus was refused hospitality by a Samaritan village because he had set His face to go to Jerusalem, his disciples were angered, and then Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:51-56).
The story of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4 also shows up the division between Jews and Samaritans and the disciples are amazed that Jesus was talking to a woman of Samaria (John 4:27). The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:33-37) also reveals this division between the Jews and the Samaritans because in their minds it would be impossible for a Samaritan to act charitably.
Overall the New Testament speaks favourably about the Samaritans, they received Jesus’ ministry and were among the first to accept the gospel.
1. Identify as completely as possible the person in need (e.g., age, ethnic origin, religion, gender, social status).
2. What was the immediate, obvious need?
3. Who took the initiative in effecting the healing?
The person in need? Others? Jesus?
How was it expressed?
4. Describe the actions or process leading to the healing that is, what was said (e.g., questions, requests, commands) and what was done (e.g., approaching, following, touching, publicly/privately), and by whom?
5. Did the person in need or someone else verbally express faith? Non-verbally?
Describe how and by whom faith was involved in this healing.
6. What were the evidences that the person was healed?
7. What were the reactions to the healing?
8. What in this narrative led Jesus to minister healing to the person in need?
1. At the beginning of this story, Jesus is in the northern part of Israel starting on his final journey to Jerusalem, and is entering "a village". Who meets Jesus as he approaches the village? Are they in the village or outside? What was the Levitical law concerning lepers (see Lev. 13, 14)?
2. Unlike Bartimaeus or the Canaanite women, they do not call Jesus "Son of David" or "Lord" but "Master/Sir". Any ideas as to why? Are they timid in their appeal? What does that say about your request/prayers for healing (or anything else, for that matter)?
3. In addition to being unclean and outcast, lepers were untouchable. Jesus does not touch the men in this healing. Is that true for other healings of leprosy in the Gospels? Is there, perhaps, a reason why touch is not a part of this account?
4. "As they went, they were cleansed." Who was cleansed? What does this say about the role of the "healee" relative to that of the "healer"? Note: the Greek word katharizo translated "cleansed" (NIV, RSV, KJV) and "leprosy disappeared" (Living Bible). Explain how the story of Naaman confirms this conclusion (2 Kings 5:1-13).
5. "Jesus asked ...... " seems to imply that Jesus is speaking to more than the ex-leper because it is followed by "then he said to him "which is directed at the ex-leper. What reason(s) does Jesus have for asking these questions?
6. Although all ten men were "cleansed" of their leprosy, only one was "made well". Why? What does this mean for you?
7. What lesson(s) have you learned about healing from this account?
Give Thanks (Chris Low) [Lk 17: 11-19]
As we read in 2 Timothy 2:8-15, God’s word is unchained, even if we are in prison. When Jesus speaks, his words touch many notes and places in the lives of hearers. The Gospel reading tells us of ten lepers who know their healing as they set out to fulfil Jesus’ command of presenting themselves to the priests, an act in line with the law which required the priests to verify healing.
Yet the theme of this event is not so much the miraculous healing word of Jesus, but the teaching word arising from this. Jesus is on his way to fulfil God’s will in Jerusalem, and has vital teaching about himself and his relationship with us to pass on.
Here were ten lepers healed simply by Jesus’ word, yet only one amongst them returns to thank Jesus. That the only man who fully understood what had happened was a Samaritan, a person excluded from the chosen people of God, emphasises the good news of the Gospel for all people in all places.
That this man turned round, thanking Jesus and praising God, reveals the salvation of God which he had found, and amounts to nothing short of conversion. And gratitude comes easily from a heart that remembers Jesus is the one who saves, who speaks the word that heals, who restores those who follow him to wholeness. In remembering and returning to him, hearing and seeing him, the fullness of human wholeness is known.
Our Gospel reading today shows us that our walk of faith is, at heart, a journey of returnings, re-hearings and rememberings of Jesus.
How good are you at saying thank you?? Do you hurry to express your appreciation of gifts given or kindnesses received? When I was growing up, the ‘thank you letter’ was obligatory, whether for a gift received or for hospitality. Today, ‘thank you’ seems to be a phrase little used. One only has to hold open a door, or give way to other cars in our High St to be aware of that!!!
One of the key issues in the reading from Luke is the fact that only the outcast, the foreigner, gave thanks for his healing. The inference being that those who should have known better failed to behave as was expected and give thanks where it was due. It was left to one who was considered to be the lowest of the low to respond in the appropriate way.
The Jews, hearing this would have been outraged and Jesus would have another black mark against him for drawing attention to the situation. I wonder how we would react in their place?
Yet how often do we show our gratitude to God for his goodness? Do we take the incredible sacrifice of his Son for granted, are we so used to the story that it no longer holds the significance it should for us?
Let us just dwell for a moment on the facts. God allowed his beloved Son to take human form, to live as one of us, to suffer humiliation, rejection and an agonising death. He allowed him to take the vilest aspects of humanity, with all its degradation upon himself that we might have salvation through him
Do we show our gratitude for that awesome love as we should? How much of our lives do we dedicate to our Father God, how hard do we try to live up to his expectations? How much of our precious time do we allocate to the one who gave everything for us?
I believe that it is all too easy to become complacent and forgetful of all that he has done for us and that it is good every now and then to take stock and have an honest overhaul of where we stand. Are we like the 9, or the one?
Being children of the living God, loved and redeemed by him, however low we sink; calls forth a response in all who acknowledge him. The appropriate response is the one called forth by Christ’s command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength and to love your neighbour as yourself.
It is important that every now and then we review our response to those two commandments and how our lives reflect that response. Does our love for the Lord our God shine through all that we are and do or has it faded to a mere glimmer?
Do we give him the very best of ourselves or the left overs? Does it ever occur to you that our habit of expecting our time of worship together to fit into our preferred timetable of a little over an hour is an insult to the one who gave all for us?
Would you journey for 2 hours in order to worship God with your community and having got to the church then willingly worship for 2 or 3 hours before facing the long journey home? That’s what one of the church congregations with whom I worshipped in Sudan does every Sunday. And they walk in the boiling the sun, no comfy cars for them. For some it is too much trouble to travel to Thornton or from Thornton to here for a service on the rare occasions that we are together. And I’d soon be hearing from most of you if I preached for 40 minutes or more as is normal in Sudan and similar cultures. It certatinly wouldn’t do much for our attendance figures would it.
And what of the second commandment, to love our neighbour as ourselves? Last week we celebrated Harvest, giving thanks for God’s bounty, and the wonder of his creation, but how seriously do we take this annual reminder of God’s incredible work in creation and the responsibility given to each of us to care for it and to share equitably with all?
Humanity as a whole has a pretty bad record on both counts if we look back over the centuries. Even looking back over the past half century we’ve performed pretty abysmally.
How, for example did we allow lush rainforests to become wastelands? Now you may ask what has the Amazonian rain forest to do with me? Well did you realise that most of the timber taken by commercial logging companies from these forests is exported to countries like ours. It goes to be used in the construction industry and for making furniture, plywood, veneers, wood pulp and paper.
When did you last ask if any of these used by yourself came from sustainable woodland management? Trees are a renewable resource, but only if they are managed properly. Because of costs, logging companies in countries like Brazil where the Amazonian rainforest is situated rarely replace felled trees. Worse still, in order to fell huge tracts of forest the logging companies have driven Amazonian Indians off their land depriving them of both home and livelihood and all so we can have cut price goods.
The areas of land that have been cleared are so large that it is difficult for vegetation to return and soil left without tree cover is quickly washed away by heavy rains leaving insufficient soil for new plant growth. In time it becomes little more than desert.
This is just one example of how we fail to keep our Lord’s commandment to love one another. Sadly there are numerous such examples where the earth is plundered and damaged and others suffer great hardship so we can obtain cheap commodities.
Again and again the wealthy countries of the world take advantage of the poorer countries and exploit them shamelessly. World trade laws and agreements often severely disadvantage poorer countries that struggle on in abject poverty as a result. We all have a voice and can do our bit to change this by being more careful and discerning in what we buy and by supporting fair trade agreements and policies.
Unless we play our part, however small or inadequate it may appear globally, in trying to bring about justice and a greater care for our world, then our harvest thanksgivings are hollow and meaningless.
Looked at in these terms, giving thanks to God has a practical application doesn’t it. ‘Thank you’ is more than a couple of words, it involves showing our gratitude in every aspect of our lives. The leper who returned to express thanksgiving left not only healed of a ghastly illness but more importantly, made whole. The New Jerusalem Bible translates it as saved. In this version Jesus says to him, “Your faith has saved you.”
So where are you in relation to expressing your gratitude to our Father God? Let’s each take a minute or two to think about all that he has freely given to us and how we are going to respond to his overwhelming love.