Jesus—His Life and Message: Healing of the Ten Lepers
November 17, 2020
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: Healing of the Ten Lepers
The Gospel of Luke tells of an instance when Jesus healed ten people who were afflicted by leprosy, and what occurred afterward.
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.1
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Commentators mention that this seems to be problematic, as this border goes east to west, while the trip from Galilee to Jerusalem is from north to south. It seems odd that He would be traveling along that border en route to Jerusalem. However, it’s possible that He took an indirect route, and that on the way south He spent some time ministering to people in the border region.
As Jesus was entering an unnamed village in this area, He encountered ten people who had leprosy. In biblical times, those who had leprosy were ostracized from the villages and towns; they were not allowed to be in close proximity to or have interaction with others, so as not to expose others to this contagious disease, for which there was no cure at the time. They raised their voices so that Jesus could hear them, since they had to remain a safe distance away.
These afflicted ones had clearly heard about Jesus healing others, and they sought His help. They addressed Him by name and also referred to Him as “Master.” The lepers’ cry for mercy was an urgent request for healing.
Jesus responded by telling them to show themselves to the priests. According to the Mosaic Law, those who were healed of leprosy were required to be examined by the priests in order to be proclaimed “clean” and therefore able to reenter fellowship with others.2 In this case, Jesus instructed the ten lepers to present themselves to the priests so that they could be pronounced clean and allowed to reenter normal society. When Jesus instructed them to go to the priests, they were not yet healed; but as they obeyed His instructions, the healing miracle occurred, and all ten lepers were delivered from the disease. Their healing was a life-changing event, as it meant that each of the ten, after being examined by the priest, would be able to return to normal life within society, no longer outcast and shunned. What a great joy it must have been for each of them.
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.3
While nine of those who were healed continued on in order to present themselves to the priests, one of them took a different action. Seeing that he was healed, the man turned and approached Jesus, which he could now do, as he no longer had leprosy. He fell at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him for the healing while also praising God in a loud voice. In doing so, he acknowledged that God was working through Jesus.
It is only after hearing about this man’s reaction and his gratitude to God and to Jesus for his healing that we find out he was a Samaritan. Samaritans were half-Jewish, half-Gentile descendants of the Jews from northern Israel who remained there after Israel fell to the Assyrians in 721 BC. They eventually intermarried with foreigners brought into the country by the Assyrians. Therefore Samaritans were looked down upon by the Jewish people. Though it is not stated, the implication is that the other nine who were healed were Jewish.4
Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”5
Jesus responded by asking three questions. A positive answer would be expected to the first question, as clearly ten lepers were cleansed. The next two questions reflect negatively on the nine others who were healed but didn’t give thanks. As mentioned above, it is likely that the other nine were Jewish, so it would have been expected that they would be praising God for their healing.
It would have been natural to expect that those who were miraculously healed of leprosy would thank the one through whom the miracle was performed, but nine of them did not. The Samaritan received Jesus’ commendation, as even though he was a non-Jewish foreigner, he had the spiritual sensitivity that the other lepers lacked.
[Jesus] said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”6
Jesus commended the Samaritan for his faith. Since the other nine lepers were also healed, it’s unlikely that Jesus was only commending the Samaritan for his faith for healing. It is more likely that Jesus was referring to his newfound faith in Jesus, something which only the one man among the ten lepers received. While the lepers all received healing, the Samaritan man received more than physical healing, as he gained a relationship with God.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Luke 17:11–14.
2 Leviticus 13:19; 14:1–11.
3 Luke 17:15–16.
4 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1404.
5 Luke 17:17–18.
6 Luke 17:19.