Jean’s Gospel: The Ten Lepers
“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” (Luke 17:11-12)
When Jesus reached the village, ten lepers approached Him, but at a distance. They had heard of Jesus, of His Gospel and miracles, which had been proclaimed and witnessed throughout Galilee prior to His arrival at their village. Hearing this good news kindled an untested and unexperienced faith in the lepers which brought them to Jesus.
“and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ ” (Luke 17:13)
The lepers were outcasts, considered unclean under the Law, who had no works or merit of any kind to present to Jesus. They knew they were sinners. They had nothing to offer Jesus other than their humble prayer of faith: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” However, unlike works and merit, faith is a receptacle into which Jesus can pour out His service and grace: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28) Faith brought the lepers to Jesus, stood them up and lifted their voices with boldness and eagerness.
“When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ ” (Luke 7.14a)
But Jesus disappoints human reason, causing affliction and suffering, as faith is tested, exercised and strengthened. Reason asks: “Why are you sending us to the priests? We have already shown ourselves to them and received our sentence: ‘You are unclean.’ Why have you ignored our request? Is He unable or disinterested? Are the reports we have heard about Him false? Does He despise us?” Since Jesus did not answer Reason’s prayer, instead of attempting the painful journey on foot, probably for nothing, Reason would remain in place, outside the camp, in torn clothes, with unkempt hair, warning off passersby, crying: “Unclean, unclean.” (Lev 13:45-46) Reason will not receive or endure Jesus.
Faith, on the other hand, receives Jesus entirely differently: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) Faith holds fast to what it does not see, feel or experience, either in body or soul. As a firm trust in Jesus and His Word, Faith commits itself to and relies entirely upon His goodness and without any doubt expects to receive grace from His goodness. Thus grace will certainly be received, and the feeling and experience of it will come unsought and unsolicited, in and through such faith and hope. Therefore, in faith that Jesus would not forsake them, the lepers obeyed Jesus’ command: “Go….”
“And as they went they were cleansed.” (Luke 7:14b)
The lepers received two cleansings from Jesus. The first cleansing was in the eyes of God, which the lepers received immediately when Jesus saw their faith. As Isaiah prophesied: “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” (Isa 65:24) We also read vividly of this in Jesus’ healing of the paralytic: “but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ ” (Luke 5:19-20) Before we can even ask, Jesus without hesitation bestows grace to faith in Him.
It is as though Jesus were to say: “Take what you have come for and ‘Go.’ Show your purity to the priests. As I consider you, and as you believe, so you shall be.” When God appears to be farthest away he is nearest. But so that His grace could afterwards be felt and experienced by the men, Jesus also healed their leprosy.
“Then 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. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’ ” (Luke 17:15-19)
If the story had ended at verse 14, we would have had a very happy ending indeed. Because the lepers, having been cured of their leprosy, would now be welcomed back into their communities and homes, could make a living alongside other men, and could worship God in the temple. But what about that Jesus fellow? What will they tell their priests, families, and potential employers when asked about their healings? These men again suffer affliction on account of Jesus.
If these men confess Christ, they will be rejected by the priests and cast out of the synagogue, ostracized by family and community, and could very well place their lives in jeopardy. From a worldly perspective, they have come so far and have gotten so close to a normal life that they can almost taste it. Will they risk throwing it all away by confessing that they were healed by Jesus, the Christ of God?
The devil afflicts a follower of Jesus both from outside the church and from the inside. Outside the church, the world, for example, may exact financial suffering on a Christian who will not conform to the pattern of the world and its idols. However, even more dangerous than those afflictions, are the ones which come from within the church. This happens when a priest or pastor, twisting the words of God, attempts to deprive us of Jesus and His gifts, such as when they say: “His words do not mean what they say;” “His words do not do what they say;” or “His words no longer apply today.” Wherever the Church is present, the devil is busy attacking our faith in the name of God.
“And the [seeds of the Gospel] on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:13-15)
Sadly, nine of the ten lepers fell away. Their faith had no root to endure testing, or their faith was choked by the allure of the pleasures of life which were now available to them. But one of the ten held Christ’s Word fast in an honest and good heart. From his heart he yielded his fruit: the sacrifice of praise to Christ His Savior of both his body and soul; and his public confession that God healed him. The man received exactly what he came to Jesus for: mercy! To this Jesus responded: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Praise be to God that Jesus does all things well for us who trust in Him and His Word. Amen.
“[T]hese are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Amen.