“On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by 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.” (Luke 17:11-19 (ESV)
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.” “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
The ten lepers, all in the same boat, they all come together to ask Jesus for mercy, nine Jews and a Samaritan. It’s an entourage you probably would not see outside a leper colony. Jesus was on the border country, and lepers would take to places like that, cut off from their own people when shown to a priest. It was a priest’s job to determine if a person had leprosy or not. If the lesions began to appear on the skin the people were to show themselves to the priest. If the priest determined that they were leprous, then that person’s life as he knew it would end. Immediately they would be taken out of society, as the scriptures say, cut off from their people until such time as it could be shown they no longer had leprosy. I always found that part of scripture to be a bit peculiar in the O.T. I know modern medicine has found cures for leprosy, and you rarely see it in western society any more. But until quite recently a diagnosis of leprosy was a death sentence. Being cured from it wasn’t something a person hoped for much. Leper colonies and communities were common even in the 1950s if I remember right.
People were cleansed, a notable foreigner, Naaman, was cleansed of leprosy in the O.T. He went to see Elijah, he was told to wash in the Jordan. What was given to us there was one of the great foreshadowings of baptism. The man was furious with Elijah for telling him to go wash in the Jordan. His advisors talked him into following the instructions. Namaan was skeptical, wasn’t sure about it. It’s actually quite doubtful that Namaan at that time had anything in him that could be interpreted as faith. And yet at the Lord’s command the waters washed him clean of his leprosy, and he came out of the water a believer. He praised God and worshiped him the rest of his life. He rose and went on his way as it were, but never parted from the way the truth and the life.
I do wonder though how often a man banished for leprosy ever returned to show himself to a priest, to show that he was clean. It is a hideous disease. It wasn’t all that painful, though, from what I understand anyway. People who have it won’t feel a thing when they lose a digit. But the moment you had it, you more or less lossed everything worth living for. You could no longer drink a glass or two of wine with your friends in the town square, enjoy a meal at home with your wife and family, you could no longer join the community in the praise of God as they gathered in the Synagogue to sing psalms, no longer travel down to Jerusalem for the great feasts at the temple, The Passover, the feast of booths, or Pentecost. You cannot comprehend what sort of a celebration these things were as powerful land owners would take their tithe, a tenth of their income for the year, and buy wine and beer (strong drink as it is called in the O.T.) meat and all the fixing, rent a villa for their household, their family and the people who worked for them, and throw a party, a party that would make your office Christmas party look dull and tame. But no more for the Leper, he wasn’t even allowed to make himself useful to society in the work he did. He had to leave society, and be cut off from his people.
And now they approach Jesus, Lord have mercy on us. All ten are healed. But the foreigner he is the one who returns to praise Jesus. Jesus draws attention to this. He wants people to know the gospel is for everyone, that even as God loved Naaman so he loves you, that even as God loved this Samaritan and healed him from his leprosy, so God loves you, who by all rights ought to be cut off from the people of God, sinners as we are. Sinners who are not always thankful like this Samaritan. Sinners who once healed from the leprosy of sin, return to the law as the other nine to the priest. Why do we do that? Our Old Adam loves the law. Healed from sin, we think we can do it over again and better this time. It’s as if our Old Adam was never killed. And I’m not saying you should ignore the law as a forgiven sinner. But why do we then try to justify ourselves by it? Why then do we try to condemn others with it? We’ve been washed clean, made righteous in the waters of Baptism just as Naaman was made righteous in the waters of the Jordan. Our righteousness is not in the law. We have not made ourselves righteous by it. The Holy Spirit has made us righteous through the washing of regeneration that is baptism. We are no longer servants of the law. Now the law is our servant. For the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. We live by faith, and not as servants of the law. For it is our faith that has made us well. Faith given to us in Baptism when you and were joined to the Sabbath rest of Jesus who is not our Sabbath rest, buried into his death there in the tomb where he spent the entire Sabbath resting from the work he finished on Friday, so that in his resurrection, he could say to us, “Rise and go on your way, your faith has made your well.” And we now walking in the newness of life do not return to be servants of the law unto death, but go on our way in Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life, forever forgiven.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.