On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’Lk 17:11-19
Like many of the miracles of healing, the story of the ten lepers is exclusive to Luke’s Gospel. These miracles of healing were not just accounts of people being cured of a diversity of physical and mental ailments, but they very much represented a person’s return and welcome back into the community. As their health was restored, so too was their place in society – for the illness had often made them an outcast.
The woman who suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years was considered to be unclean and thus excluded from temple worship. Similarly, but more extremely, lepers were not only excluded from temple worship but from all facets of community life. This terrible disease, which was often fatal, meant that leper colonies developed in caves or on the outskirts of small, isolated villages. It was to such a village that Jesus came.
The cry of the ten lepers ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us‘ is similar to that made by many of the afflicted whom Jesus comforted during his public ministry. Jesus’ miracles of healing were often in response to pleas that were both desperate and faith -filled. Like the haemorrhaging woman, who touched the cloak of Jesus, and Bartimaeus who called to him “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me” (Mark 10:47), the ten lepers recognise and revere his healing and saving power. As with so many of the people healed by Jesus, with this miracle he again affirms the power of personal faith in the process ‘Your faith has saved you.’ These words were uttered to the one and only leper who came to express gratitude, a Samaritan.
Great animosity existed between the Jewish and Samaritan peoples who worshipped in rival temples, the Jews in Jerusalem, the Samaritans on Mt Gerizim. Traditionally the Jews had considered the Samaritans impure because of this and their worship of foreign Gods and also on account of their intermarriage with foreigners. Despite having restored nine lepers into the covenant life of Israel they do not come to express their gratitude, rather it is only the foreigner, the stranger who comes. This miracle reminds us of how the prophet Elisha cleansed a foreign leper while living in Samaria (2 Kings 5:1-14). At another level Jesus initiates the adoption of foreigners into God’s covenant family as prophesied in Is. 56:3-8.
The miracle of the healing of the ten lepers not only affirms the need to have a gracious heart for the many gifts we receive from God, but it reminds us of the power of faith – a power that can heal, transform and ultimately save.
Director, Mission & Identity