We kind of expect our parents to take care of us; to love us; to show kindness. I know that it doesn’t always work that way, but there is something in us that expects it. So much so that when it doesn’t happen we feel the incongruity. But when we expect it there may be a tendency to take it for granted. It can be difficult for children to fully grasp the gravity of what their parents do for them. After all, they are their parents. It’s their job. So, if you view God as your father, you may just fall into this same lethargy of thankfulness. He’s God, after all. It’s kind of his job to make sure you are blessed. Now for the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, one of the expectations of the coming Messiah is that he would make the lame to walk, the blind to see, and heal the lepers. It’s his thing as the suffering servant.
Luke 17:11-19 is the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. It is found only in the gospel of Luke. We begin with a reminder that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. It happened as he was passing between Samaria and Galilee. We are probably not intended to try to figure out exactly where Jesus is or which route he is taking. That’s not the point. The ten lepers are a mixed group and that is explained by where Jesus is traveling on his way to Jerusalem. Okay, as Jesus was entering a village there were ten lepers who stood far away, most likely far from the village and far from Jesus and his disciples. In Leviticus 13:45-46 the leper has to cover his lip and shout “Unclean!” if anyone came near, warning them not to get any closer. They are also told that they have to live alone and dwell outside the camp. The precise disease being referenced by the word leprosy is debated. In the Old Testament it seemed to be several skin diseases. By the time of Jesus, it was probably what we call leprosy today.
They raise their voices most likely in order to be heard from a distance and to emphasize their plea. They call Jesus by name. So, they have heard of him. The word “master” can be a term of respect used for someone of a higher status. They are asking Jesus to have mercy on them. Not only are they sick, they are considered religiously unclean. Their life is a burden of debilitating illness and isolation with very little hope of it getting better. When Jesus saw them, he told them to go and show themselves to the priests, which is what you have to do before you can be claimed officially clean (Leviticus 14). Jesus saw them. That is more significant than it first reads. The word can mean to pay attention to. How many people have looked right at them but didn’t really see them? Jesus saw them. And then he asked them to show some faith and go to the priests before they were actually healed. The word “go” is used enough in this passage to make it stand out. Jesus is going to Jerusalem. Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests. As they are going and because they are going in faith, they are healed.
One of them pays attention to the fact that he has been healed. It is implied that they had not gone very far. Out of the ten, one of them decided to return and loudly glorify God and to give thanks to Jesus. These are most likely different things in the mind of the leper. Some think it is the same thing and then question how thanking Jesus is glorifying God. Some ask why he doesn’t go to the temple – to the priests – like Jesus told him to? I think some people are overthinking it. He is overcome with gratitude. He knows the source of his cleansing is not that far away; he knows the ultimate source is God. Picture him shouting out praises to God as he runs back to Jesus where he falls prostrate. Oh, and he was a Samaritan. Why would a Samaritan and Jews be in the same group? Because the bond of leprosy was stronger than old prejudices.
Jesus asked about the others; the ones who had also been healed but didn’t come back. Verse 18 could be translated as a statement rather than a question. No one was found who came back to give glory to God except this foreigner. And Jesus used a word here that is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. It is, however, found in the inscription in the temple warning foreigners not to go past the barrier between the court of Gentiles into the court of women. And here is another reason this leper returned while the others did not. The nine had grown up with the expectation that the Messiah would cleanse the lepers. They had the temple. They could go to the priests. They were receiving what was expected. Jesus tells the Samaritan to travel on; his faith had made him well. Are you thankful for what God has done for you? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that he is God and merely doing what God does. His blessings are a gift.