We have already seen (5:12-16) that leprosy was perhaps the disease feared above all others in the time of Jesus. These ten people were excluded from their communities to such an extent, that their previous cultural barriers had become meaningless – there were both Jews and Samaritans in the group. The passage can be read here.
In the previous section the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. It could be that Luke, in his orderly account, placed this incident here in order to give a picture of how to respond in faith. There are a few things to note. They ‘called out in a loud voice’. Jesus did not heal them without them being aware of it as he passed, they called out to him. This is a biblical principle; human beings recognise their need and their inability to meet that need so they call out to God. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The same verse is found three times in the Bible so we can appreciate, this is important.
Some years ago, I walked through a market in Turkey. It was an interesting experience but one that made me quite uncomfortable. I found that the Turkish approach to gaining business was very different to the reserved British approach with which I am familiar. They didn’t wait to be asked about something, they came out and asked me. They wanted me to go in and look at their products, to have some tea. The fact that there was nothing that I wanted to buy didn’t seem relevant. I became aware very early on in this experience, that if I wanted to make any progress, I would have to ignore people. I didn’t enjoy ignoring people, in fact it made me very uncomfortable, but it seemed to me, a fish out of water, it was my only option. It was perhaps a glimpse of what it must be like in places in the developing world where there are countless beggars – do you have to ignore them too? It must have been like that for Jesus but he never ignored anyone. He always heard the cries of the desperate and not only did he hear; he had the ability to cleanse. He gave the lepers a command.
The lepers were faced with a choice, should they do as Jesus commanded or ignore him? They were not healed immediately, in fact, they were still leprous. The ritual of going to a priest was to ensure that the person had recovered from the skin condition and there was no longer a risk of passing on the disease. Why would you see a priest if your condition was the same? The simple answer is because the person telling you to go is Jesus. He has the power to heal, he has a track record delivering on his promises and he is the son of God. That’s what faith looks like; it’s being obedient to God’s word rather than following the accepted wisdom. Luke’s words are significant; “as they went, they were cleansed”.
I love the Samaritan who returned. We don’t know what happened to the other nine, perhaps they couldn’t wait to see their families or maybe they were determined to see a priest and be pronounced clean (Luke implies the Samaritan turned around immediately the leprosy had gone). What we do know is that the Samaritan couldn’t wait to go back to Jesus and thank him. He was loud, I bet they heard him before they saw him, and he was grateful. Jesus was not embarrassed, he didn’t tell him to tone it down, he understood the man’s response and his question is one that challenges our own response to grace. He asked; ‘Where are the other nine?’ The whole universe is praising God; ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ (Psalm 19:1). All of heaven sings praise; “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” When will we join in?
We thank you Lord that you hear our cries to you and that you are able act in power. Help us to respond in faith even when we don’t understand what is happening. Help us to continually proclaim your greatness, love and faithfulness.