On the Gospel of Luke (17:11-19)
Jesus and his disciples are on the move. In today’s Gospel we find them traveling in the border area at the south extremity of the province of Galilee, and at the north end where the Samaritans lived. It is within this setting of a racially mixed area that Jesus encounters the lowest of the low in society. Leprosy in biblical times was a terrible thing. It was looked upon as something far more than just a physical illness. Once a person caught it, they were considered ‘unclean’ and social outcasts. Healing a leper had not been done in Israel for seven hundred years. The possibility of such a cure was thought to be an earmark of the Messianic Age (Luke 7:22) when leprosy would no longer afflict people.
Jesus is just outside of the village when he meets the group. It would not have been uncommon for lepers to group together. Not having any social contact with the ‘clean’ members of the village, they would have to form their own society of the ‘unclean’, or the ‘untouchables’. With no land to till, and no livestock to look after, they were completely dependent upon the mercy of others. When Jesus and his disciples come close, the ten immediately recognise him and call out his name. The lepers, in their cries, ask for pity. They do not ask for healing, but for pity. They were obviously aware of Jesus’ reputation for compassion and sought food, clothing, shelter or whatever he might have been able to offer. But did any of them really ask for, or expect, healing? The text, at least, does not indicate so.
The Gospel does not tell us why Jesus cured all ten. Nor does this reading give any details as to how Jesus cured them. All we know is that ‘as they were going away they were cleansed’. There are many readings in the Gospel which demonstrate the divinity of Jesus and the miracles he worked, but this Gospel highlights specifically the importance of our response to his mercy. Faith is exhibited in what we actually do. Because these lepers believed, they obeyed Jesus’ instructions and were prepared to go to the village where the priests lived. It was by acting on Jesus teaching that the leapers were cured. The surprise in this healing is that the only thankful one is a non-Jew. The group of lepers is presumably made up of both Jews and Samaritans, their common disease uniting them despite their deep divisions of ancestry, religion, and history. But the only one courteous enough to offer thanks is a Samaritan.
The account concludes with Jesus’ departing blessing – “Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you”. This passage hints that Jesus offers this man more than the others. They all received healing, but this Samaritan receives a deeper salvation in addition. His faith has prompted him to return to the feet of Jesus in thanks, and that personal contact, that personal submission signifies a soul healing that is more than skin deep. Gratitude is an important component in our salvation. Were all ten lepers healed? Yes. Were they all saved? Yes, in the sense that they were rescued from their disease, but not in the sense of drawing closer to God in thankfulness and dependence. The nine were saved physically but not spiritually. “Where are the other nine?” Jesus asks. Healing which does not bring a person to Jesus is incomplete and stunted. A healing ministry cannot stand alone. It is part of the wholeness of salvation which God desires.