The biblical story of Jesus healing the ten lepers is occasional sermon fare, and I have both heard and read various uses made of the incident. The story can be found in the Gospel According to Luke 17:11-19. The following is the Modern King James version:
“And as He went to Jerusalem, it happened that He went through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered into a certain village, ten leprous men met Him, who stood afar off.
And they lifted voice and said, Jesus, Master, pity us!
And seeing them, He said to them, Go show yourselves to the priests. And it happened, as they went, that they were cleansed.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back and glorified God with a loud voice. And he fell down on his face at His feet, thanking Him. And he was a Samaritan.
And answering, Jesus said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were none found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’ And He said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has cured you’. “
The story is really quite simple: as Jesus was passing between Samaria and Galilee, 10 lepers asked Him for mercy. Jesus replied to them, instructing them to show themselves to the priests (a prerequisite to be declared clean and free from leprosy) and as the 10 went off, they were healed. Surprisingly, only one of the 10, a Samaritan came back to thank Jesus after his healing, after which, Jesus blessed him saying ‘Rise and go, your faith has healed you.’
As we read this simple story, the words of this passage should land with impact deep within us, as we consider our attitude towards Jesus and our thanks, or lack of it, to Him and to others, for services rendered.
First, let us recognise that there was little communication and even less empathy between Samaritans and Jews. Indeed, Jesus exploited this fact in his parable of Luke 10:30-37 where the humanity of the Samaritan was contrasted to the inhumanity of a Priest and a Levite, who each chose to ignore an injured man and pass-by, on the far side of the road. And similarly in the story John 4:4-43 of Jesus at Sychar’s Well of Jacob, where a Samarian woman commented to Jesus in v9, “For the Jews do not associate with Samaritans,” we have biblical confirmation of the division between the two groups.
From this contrast in the action of the Samaritan leper, we can reasonable suppose that in Luke’s Jewish tradition of idiomatic expressions, he was contrasting the Samaritan’s actions, compared to those of Jewish lepers. The surprise, therefore, that only one in ten thanked Jesus, is made more than doubly significant, as he who gave thanks, was a Samaritan.
Secondly, we need to recognise just what happened when the Samaritan leper thanked Jesus. We can see that Jesus sent them all off to the temple to present themselves before a priest who would declare them clean and free from leprosy under the Law as prescribed in Leviticus 13. However, when the Samaritan leper returned to thanks Jesus, Jesus blessed him saying ‘Rise and go; your faith has cured you’.
But if all the lepers had already been healed, what does this mean, that “your faith has cured you”? To understand this, we need to look at the original Greek language in which Gospel of Luke was first recorded; there we read “ἡ πίστις σύ σώζω σύ. ” The interesting word is ‘cured’ or, as the King James Version of the Bible phrases this verse “thy (your) faith hath (has) made thee (you) whole” . In effect, Jesus blessed the Samaritan that he be ‘made whole’ This meaning and understanding accords well with the definition of ‘cured’ from the original Greek as Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Dictionary says ‘cured’ is from a primary word σῶς sōs̄ (contraction for the obsolete σάος saos, “safe”); to save, that is, deliver or protect (literally or figuratively): – heal, preserve, save (self), do well, be (make) whole. Indeed, just as the KJV says: Jesus made him whole.
All ten of the lepers were healed by Jesus ‘physically’. But the one leper who came to thank Jesus, personally received from Him far more for his “faith”, for not only was he cured physically, he was cured spiritually; his soul was saved. He received a right and eternal relationship with God.
Nine lepers received a partial healing; a temporary blessing for their time on this earth. The thankful Samaritan, by contrast, received an eternal blessing. What did he do to earn this eternal blessing? He simply gave thanks to Jesus for his healing.
The Samaritan’s actions did not score highly or scale great heights of humility or humanity, to received his blessing. He did nothing really extraordinary. All he did was to express thanks for that which he was given as a free gift, in response to his request for it. He and the nine others had the necessary faith to put their trust in Jesus and come close to him – well, close enough to be heard by Him – and to ask for His pity. Yet only one had the civility, the humility, the honesty, the character, to say “Thank You.”
When we read this, how do we look at ourselves? Do we, our Church, our Christian brothers and sisters, normally align with the nine healed lepers? Or do we normally align ourselves with the Samaritan leper who said “Thank You” to Jesus for his healing and in that action, received an eternal blessing?
It is worthy of pause and consideration.
Amen and Amen.