God’s People, part 217: Ten Lepers

Read Luke 17:11-19

“So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!” (2 Kings 5:14, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesus_lepersPart 217: Ten Lepers. The account of Jesus’ healing the ten men with leprosy is a powerful one for sure, and it is also an account that has multiple layers to it. So often, we read these accounts like we would read a simplistic children’s account, word for word, line for line, without ever looking deeper in between the words and the lines on the page. This is, partly, not our fault as we are far removed from Jesus’ time and place and certainly the context is missing. Still, we often gloss over details that are quite revealing of the larger picture.

The first layer I would like to peel back is the location of the ten lepers. Luke tells us that Jesus was heading from Galilee toward Jerusalem. It is important to recall that there were only two ways from Galilee to Jerusalem. One way was a wilderness road that went around Galilee; however, that road, though well traveled, was treacherous because bandits would hide in the cliffs and rocks and ambush travelers. The other way was to go through Samaria; however, the Jews often avoided this because they believed the Samaritans to be wicked and believed that they would be defiled by them if they even so much as crossed paths.

Clearly, Luke indicates that Jesus was perfectly fine traveling through Samaria and, actually, other Gospels such as John corroborate that fact. When Jesus reached the border of Galilee and Samaria, he came to a village and came across ten men with leprosy standing at a distance from him. We are not sure what “village” this was as Luke never names it; however, it is more than likely that it was a leper colony outside of a larger village on the border of Samaria.

The next layer is that when the men call out for mercy, they may or may not have been calling out for healing; rather, they may have been calling out for alms. In fact, when most people in Jesus’ day called out for mercy, they were looking for almsgiving. Still, it is possible, that they had heard of Jesus’ healing and that they were asking for Jesus to heal them. Whatever the case may be, Jesus saw them and responded, “‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy” (Luke 17:14, NLT). What I love about this layer is that it is quite possible that these men were looking for money and Jesus surprised them with something far greater than that!

That bring us to the next layer needing to be peeled. The point of this account is not actually about the healing, but about the response of the ten. Luke tells us that as the ten men with leprosy left to go to the priest, as Jesus had instructed them, they were cleansed of their leprosy. So, what we see here is that as soon as they obeyed Jesus command they were instantly healed. It did not happen once they arrived at the priest, but immediately as they responded in obedience to Jesus’ command. Nine of those men, seeing that they were healed, continued on to the priests, were investigated and deemed clean. Jesus never saw or heard from them again.

With that said, upon being healed, one of the men instantly turned around and ran back to Jesus. This is the final and most shocking of the layers. As he approached Jesus he began shouting, “Praise God!” What’s more, the man fell down a the feet of Jesus, thanking him for what he had done. More than thanking Jesus, he was worshiping (as the act of prostrating before someone or something indicates) the presence of God within Jesus.

With all of this before us, the real twist to the story is in the fact that this man was a Samaritan. The other nine, who never returned to praise God and thank Jesus, were Jews; however, this one who did return and recognize the presence of God in Jesus was a Samaritan. The Jews, including those other nine men, would look at this one man as a Godless Gentile, and yet it is this “Godless Gentile” who recognized the presence of God in Jesus, praised and worshiped him.

What this teaches us is to never, ever judge a book by its cover. Sadly, we often look at those who are different than us, who are outside of our culture, our religion, our politics and world views as being “less than us”; however, as this account points out, we may be the ones who are lacking in actually seeing the presence of God. Yes, we should hold fast to our beliefs of God and Jesus Christ; however, not at the cost of discounting or judging others, nor at the cost of dismissing God’s ability to reveal Godself to anyone at any time. This should humble and challenge us to open ourselves to being merciful, compassionate, understanding, welcoming and loving toward all people no matter how different we may perceive them.

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” – John Milton

Lord Jesus, help me to respond to you in humble and grateful ways. I am wholly yours. Amen.

Leave a Reply