Where are the Nine?
Can you imagine a more sorrowful fate than suffering from an incurable, contagious disease that also carries a powerful social stigma? A stigma so feared that the very word leper has become synonymous with pariah or outcast? What if you were also of an ethnic minority group that was scorned and despised by the majority? Such was the triple misfortune of one of the ten men who approached Jesus in today's gospel.
Leprosy, today called Hansen's disease, was a dreaded affliction in ancient times and was much more common than today. Two lengthy chapters of Leviticus, God's handbook for the Levite priests, cover in detail how priests were to diagnose and quarantine those afflicted with the disease to avoid spreading the infection to the rest of the tribe, including instructions for the leper's clothing and house. He was required to live alone outside the town, and had to shout "Unclean, unclean!" everywhere he went, to warn the healthy to remain at a safe distance.
Ten lepers called out to Jesus for help in the 17th chapter of Luke as He traveled between Samaria and Galilee toward Jerusalem. This was His final journey to Jerusalem that He began in Luke 9, because He knew the time had come for His arrest and crucifixion. One of the ten lepers who approached Him was a Samaritan. Samaritans were an ethnic minority of mixed race, very much on the outer margin of Jewish society, so a Samaritan with leprosy would be an outcast from the outcasts. They stood across the road and called out to Jesus for mercy.
Clearly, they were asking for more than alms, or charity. A few coins would not have satisfied them. They wanted their circumstances to change. No doubt they had heard of the many miraculous healings Jesus had performed and hoped, perhaps even believed, that He could remove this dreadful illness from their bodies. Likewise, Jesus didn't respond with charity. Jesus was all about a one-on-one personal relationship, as He still is today. He knew these ten men were crying out for physical healing, and He also knew they needed spiritual healing.
Jesus told them, "Go, and show yourselves to the priest." He wasn't sending them away, He was challenging them to take a step of faith. While they were still afflicted, He told them to go and be examined by the priest, who would confirm their healing and allow them to re-enter society. Let's think about that for a moment. They could have objected, saying "but you haven't healed us yet," but none of them did. All ten obediently turned and headed toward the synagogue to consult the priest, even the Samaritan who wasn't even a Jew. And as soon as they took that step of faith, they were healed.
The priest couldn't cure them. Walking to the synagogue wasn't going to heal them. But when they turned and took that first step, God took charge of their circumstances. The Kingdom was standing ten feet away from them in the form of a man. They may not have realized it in that fateful moment, but for those ten men who had spent years of their lives as outcasts from society, one of whom -- the Samaritan -- was branded a heathen and foreigner as well, the doors of the Kingdom stood open.
Nine of the ten just kept walking. They didn't even say thank you.
Suddenly healed after years of a horrible debilitating disease and the hurtful social disgrace that accompanied it, miraculously cured after begging for mercy at the side of the road, nine of the ten just kept walking. And walked away not only from a chance to show gratitude to the one who had healed them, but also from a personal encounter with the living Son of God.
One turned around. The Samaritan. He ran back to Jesus, loudly praising and glorifying God, and fell on his face at Jesus' feet, thanking Him for the healing. Jesus asked rhetorically, "Were not all ten healed? Where are the other nine? Did no one turn back to give glory to God but this foreigner?"
As Jesus talked with the Samaritan, He spoke these beautiful words that the other nine missed out on: "Rise, and go your way. Your faith has saved you."
Physical healing of ten, spiritual healing of one.
May God have mercy on us! Glory to Jesus Christ!
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