1 in 10

Luke 17:11—19

This singular event is peculiar to Luke and is filled with important themes.  For example, while the Jewish religious leaders of the day hated Jesus by this time in His earthly ministry, our Lord is seen here conforming to Jewish norms by requiring that the lepers go to the priest for the required pronouncement of health (see Leviticus 14).  Another critical theme is that healing brought about by faith should result in praise to God.  Finally, the most important theme of all, and one which is stressed in Luke, is that the grace of God is for all people not just the Jews.

Grace gives direction to the life of believers and ought to be the motivation for joyful living.  Those who have experienced God’s grace should be changed in many different ways.  This story is an illustration of one way God’s grace should manifest itself in us.

1.  Setting the scene, verse 11

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.

Jesus is steadily approaching Jerusalem; His crucifixion is mere months away.  The exact location of this miracle is not given, but we do know it must have taken place between Samaria and Galilee and we also know that our Lord was traveling in the company of His disciples.  Since the location of the miracle is not given, it can’t be important.  In fact, as we read this story, it becomes evident that the miracle itself is not the important event of this story; something else is.

The setting of the narrative is important in seeing the ultimate meaning and application of this story.  In the preceding section, verses 1—10, we learn that when a follower of Christ does all he is supposed to, all he has done is his duty; nothing more.  Among the most basic of Christian duties:

  • Confronting and forgiving a fellow believer if they “sin against you,” verses 3, 4.
  • Exercising the faith God has given you, verses 5, 6.
  • Living in obedience to the will of God, verses 7—9

The whole section is summed up with verse 10—

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ “

The section following the healing of the ten lepers, verses 29—37, deals with the kingdom of God already in the midst mankind.  The Jews were waiting and looking for the kingdom to come, but Jesus told them it was in their midst; that the kingdom had come in such a way as to not attract attention to it.  In other words, the Jews had certain preconceived notions as to what the kingdom would look like and because of those preconceived notions, they completely missed its arrival.  Why did they miss it?  Because when Jesus came the first time, the kingdom was established spiritually, not physically.

Jesus then focused on His disciples, warning them about the (second) coming of the Son of Man and what conditions on earth will be like in that day—a time of peril and judgment.

Sandwiched in between these two teachings, is the event of the healing of the ten lepers.

2.  Misery loves company, verses 12, 13

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

These ten lepers, following the letter of their religious law, were actually not all national Jews; one was a Samaritan.  The Jews had nothing whatsoever to do with Samaritans and the Samaritans, for their part, avoided the Jews like the plague.  There was a tangible hatred between the two.  Yet, here we see that the seriousness of the moment broke down all barriers that otherwise existed between people.  These lepers were united in their misery.  Suffering removes all vestiges of prejudices and discrimination.  Under adverse conditions, people forget the things that separate them or drive them apart.  In that respect, we might almost suggest trouble and misery may be beneficent, if they draw disparate people together and force them to seek out God.

At any rate, these ten lepers did not come near Jesus.  This was not out of respect or concern for the Lord but rather for legal reasons.   Somehow they learned about Jesus’ miracle working talent, and so they called out to Him for “pity,” but in reality they were trying to get His attention, hoping He might heal them.

3.  Miracles in motion, verse 14

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

It’s amazing how different this act of healing leprosy differed from the one described in 5:13—

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

Not only did Jesus refrain from touching any of the ten lepers, He did not even pronounce them as being “clean!”  All Jesus told them to do was, basically, continue obeying the Law by going to the priests.  He said nothing about their healing.  In the previous healing of the leper, Jesus healed the man first, and then sent him to the priest.  Why the difference between the two miracles?  Clearly Jesus wants us to learn a valuable lesson:  our Lord deals with a variety of people in a variety of ways.  Yet, differences in the working of God in lesser areas of life have the sad result of dividing the Church instead of uniting it.

Obviously these ten lepers, who obeyed the Lord’s command immediately and without question, had assumed that Jesus would heal them.  Their pathetic condition united them in a common goal.  Notice the points of similarity between all ten of them:

  • They had leprosy;
  • They were all determined to do something about their condition;
  • They all heard about Jesus and believed this may be able to help them;
  • They all appealed to Jesus as “Master” or “Rabbi”;
  • They all obeyed Jesus’ command to go visit the priest;
  • They were all healed.

Their obedience was based on a belief—or faith—that Jesus was going to heal them.  But, note this:  before being healed, they would have to (1) have faith, and (2) act in obedience to the command of the Jesus.  They did so and, evidently, were healed on their way to the priest.

4.  The surprising outcome, verses 15, 16

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

This is whole point of the story, and no point so poignantly illustrates man’s ingratitude.  The ten lepers desperately asked Jesus for help, they received it, and nine never thanked Jesus.  How common an occurrence is this?  Once we get what we want out of God, we go on our merry way.

These ten men were all cured as they made their way to the priest, and it was obvious to them.   Suddenly, without warning, one turned back and walked toward Jesus.  It is likely they hadn’t walked too far away from the Lord.

What is often overlooked in this account is that this man—a Samaritan of all things—was “praising God in a loud voice” before he reached Jesus!  He was excited about being well again and he wasn’t ashamed to testify to that fact.

Only the Samaritan had gratitude in his heart, the other nine, Jews all, did not.  Why not?  The Jews were God’s chosen people; physical healing was their right; so they thought.  In grace and mercy—and in hopes of making a point for all generations to see—all ten lepers received their healing, but because of a spirit of ingratitude, nine of them missed the redemption which fellowship with Jesus brings.  Their bodies were made whole, but not so their souls.  Verse 19 is better translated:

“Your faith has saved you.”

5.  The grieving of Jesus, verses 17—19

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

As King Lear said in the day of his tragedy, so our Lord might have said this day:

How shaper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!

Well, Jesus had nine of them; only one out of ten lepers thought enough of what Jesus did to come back and thank Him.  Though we are greatly impressed with this Samaritan, was Jesus?  If He was, He certainly kept it to Himself!  Notice that in response to this Samaritan’s attitude of gratitude, Jesus almost ignores him; instead, our Lord asked him what had become of the other nine!  Jesus, it seems, was more concerned that God had not received the praise due Him from the other nine than with the fact that one had, indeed, praised God and thanked Jesus.

What do we make of that?  Remember the context:  in the previous story we learn about the duty of believers.  This Samaritan who praised God and thanked Jesus for his healing was not fawned over by Jesus because this Samaritan was simply doing his duty!

Finally, Jesus tells the thankful Samaritan, “Rise up and go; your faith has saved you.”  Faith is the only basis for membership in the kingdom of God, the main point of emphasis of the section following this story.  The Jews, as God’s chosen people, felt they were already a part of the kingdom by virtue of their birth.  Not so; faith is required; faith as exemplified by this Samaritan, the one in ten who came back praising God and thanking Jesus.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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