The leper returns
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:17-19 (NIV)
Our gospel reading this weekend begins in verse 11 of Luke 17 with Jesus travelling to Jerusalem by an unusual route – along the border between Samaria and Galilee, a kind of no man’s land. On the outskirts of an unnamed village, he encounters a colony of lepers. The ten men know the law and therefore their place, so they stand at a safe distance and call out loudly, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (vv.12-13).
Their call for healing is vague and tentative, yet Jesus’ reply indicates that he has not only heard their request, but is willing to grant it in full. For in order for a leper to be reintegrated into society, he or she had first to undergo the scrutiny of a priest and be declared clean. What happens next is extraordinary: on their way to the synagogue they experience complete healing! All must have realised, but only one reacted – the Samaritan. As soon as he saw he was cleansed, he turned on his heel and went back, praising God in a loud voice. When he got there, he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. (vv.14-16).
There is a marked difference between his actions and that of the other nine. Their exchange with Jesus was transactional – Jesus commanded, they obeyed and were rewarded with healing. But the tenth leper’s association with the Master was relational. He remembered, he rejoiced, he reacted and he retraced his steps to return and wholeheartedly thank Jesus for the miracle.
Jesus’ reaction? He appears to throw a question out to all within earshot, asking, “…Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he speaks directly to the man himself, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (vv.17-19).
What does this mean? Surely the Samaritan was made well at the same time as all the others? There must be more to this than meets the eye. So let us look at some other translations. The King James Version renders this phrase as, ‘…thy faith hath made thee whole’, which is better. Yet it is the Message translation which best encapsulates the broader meaning of the original Greek word sozo: “Your faith has healed and saved you.” Yes, sozo can mean well and whole but it is more often translated as save, in the sense of salvation.
It seems the nine lepers had faith enough to be healed, but the tenth recognised Jesus for who he really is: the Messiah. After their encounter with Jesus, the nine lepers ceased being lepers, but the tenth, well he also ceased being a sinner.
Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to cleanse lepers, to restore hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind, and to make the lame walk again. But thank you most of all that he has brought complete spiritual healing to all peoples, forever. Amen
Study by Peter Mill
About the writer:
Peter Mill is a minister in Grace Communion International and Regional Pastor for Scotland, Ireland and Northern England
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