Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'” Luke 17:11-19
As followers of Jesus, we are saved, healed, and called to a different standard of lifestyle than that of the world. We are set apart by God, hence free from every empty and vanity ways of life. We choose and seek to live like Christ not because one is better or just to be a moralist. Christians choose to stand out to honour the transformation our hearts and bodies undergo when we encounter Jesus as our Saviour. Christians choose and seek to live like Christ in order to lead as an example to those in our lives, community who do not Him yet.
In the Gospel reading from Luke 17, what we have is a two part story in which (1) ten lepers are healed in the act of obedience to Jesus’ word and (2) a foreigner is saved. In all Biblical history only two people had been cured of leprosy. The first person was ‘Miriam, who had leprosy for seven days as a punishment for speaking against Moses’ leadership’ (Numbers 12:9-15). The second person was Naaman, General of the Army of Aram, an heathen from Damascus (2 Kings 5). Naaman obeyed Elijah’s instruction to wash seven times in the Jordan River before he was healed.
The Gospel reading contains one of Luke’s favourite themes: the foreigner who is saved and who shows more faith than those who should (Lk 17). The story anticipates one of the central themes of Luke-Acts and a reminder that religious duty can become privilege and God’s favour can become blind familiarity.
Where are the nine? The nine of the ten lepers that did not discover a renewing relationship with God. The nine thanked the priests for proclaiming them clean, but they never made the connection between Jesus’ words and the healing. The nine wanted to be healed physically but not to be confronted with Jesus’ demand for discipleship. The nine resonate with the Church today – ‘WE are the nine! We are the ones who have been blessed by Jesus but lack faith in Him, and don’t live any different. We’re content to go through religious actions (go and show yourself to the priest) – pray, go to church, read your Bibles – but do we live differently? What a sad picture this is of the many people in the church who receive the blessings of Jesus, but with no salvation, and never return to give thanks to Him.’
The ten lepers reminds us of degrees in grace. The nine had faith enough to receive Christ’s love, health and strength, ‘but they cared to go no further.’ The one ‘struck with the Majesty and the love of Jesus, determined to learn more of His Benefactor.’ Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Lk 17:17-18). The only faithful, saved, and thankful one is a non-Jew. The ten lepers had common disease that unite them ‘despite their deep divisions of ancestry, religion, and history.’ On the outside they appear identical. Yet what a difference. One returned. Nine went on. One was grateful. Nine were not. One man found forgiveness. Nine did not. One man got two miracles. Nine got one. Ten were healed. One was forgiven and healed, hence Jesus said to the one, “Your faith has made you well.” To be well, is to be ‘whole,’ “to be saved; to be delivered from the penalties of Messianic judgment; to be preserved from damnation.”
Beloved, your soul is of greater value than the whole world. Are you healed spiritually? Can you really respond to Jesus’ command, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well?” Is your obedience consisting of or identified as faith, ‘a faith that is manifested through obedience’ to God’s Word? This is the secret of the faith that can save you, deliver you and prepare you for the Second Coming of Christ. Faith in God does not equal doing nothing. Through faith we receive the benefits of Jesus’ person and life and death and resurrection. To receive this faith, you must come to Jesus, follow Him, and encounter His grace.