I am reading through Luke these days and in Chapter 17 I found a nice little lesson on healing from Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers. To set the scene we find our Lord leaving his home turf (Galilee) and entering into Samaria (actually at the border of the two territories) on his way to Jerusalem and his eventual death. For those who don’t know Samaritans and Judeans did not get along. Samaritans were a people of mixed heritage, both Jewish and Gentile, and so they were looked down upon by the Jews as less than. Now in this Samaritan village (this is my read of the text but it could actually be literally on the border and so both Samaritan and Galileean) there were ten lepers. So here in this territory of “outcasts” or outsiders (at least if you were to ask a Jewish person of the time this is probably what they would say) we find another group of outcasts: lepers.
Lepers were considered unclean and were ostracized from general society until they could be healed and then they would be restored to society. So now we have set the stage, Jesus, a Jewish priest, a position of prestige, is about to be approached by the outcasts of the outcasts. This is rather unexpected.
“As [Jesus] entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, ‘Jesus, Master have mercy on us!’
He looked at them and said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.”Luke 17:11-14
There is a lot going on in just these verses and I want to break down what this vignette tells us about how we too can be healed.
First, God is holy
It is one thing to say God is holy but it is another thing to treat God as holy in our conduct. Notice that these ten lepers kept themselves at a distance from Jesus. Now this could simply mean that they were obeying the social mores of the time given how they were stigmatized, and I’m not saying this isn’t in part what was happening, but I also believe that they were honoring Jesus Christ as God and just as the Israelites were afraid to approach God at Mount Sinai so too these lepers recognized who Jesus was and honored him by recognizing that they were unclean (physically and spiritually) and should keep at a distance from him. If we want healing (and really forgiveness for our sins) we must conduct ourselves in such a way that we realize that the Lord is holy and we are not. As an example, I try to implement this by praying at times with my knees bent, my head bowed and my face to the ground so as to humble myself.
Second, Jesus Christ is Lord
As I discussed above the lepers honored Jesus Christ as Lord and God in their conduct toward him and then verbally confirmed it by calling him “Master.” Jesus Christ is our Lord and so if we expect to be healed (or to receive anything from God) we must acknowledge him as our Lord in both word and deed.
Third, we are not entitled to healing (or anything)
The lepers pleaded for Jesus to have mercy on them. When we ask for mercy we are not asking for our wages or due but for grace. We are not entitled to be healed no matter how bad our condition (both physically and any consequent social stigma). It may have been wrong for others to ostracize and stigmatize these lepers but the actions of others have no effect on our relationship with God. God does not owe us anything because others wrong us. Their evil is theirs alone and has no bearing on God’s goodness. God is good because he looks past our sins and loves us anyways.
Fourth, obey the commandments
While he was on earth even the Son of God subjected himself to the requirements of the law. Jesus knew the lepers needed to be determined to be clean by the Jewish priests so he told the lepers to go show themselves to them. By obeying Jesus and going they too subjected themselves to the law and they were healed of their leprosy before they even got to the priests.
Finally, be thankful
“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, ‘Praise God!’ He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, ‘Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’ And Jesus said to the man, ‘Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.’ “Luke 17:17-19
Ah, so this is where I have kind of buried the lead. Weren’t ten lepers healed? Were ten lepers healed? Yes, ten lepers were healed of leprosy but only one leper was truly healed. The healing that we truly require is the healing of our hearts and our souls, no matter what our physical condition is. To be healed, that is to be in a right relationship with God, we must do all of the above: honor God as God, recognize God as God, humble ourselves, obey God and be thankful. When we’re thankful we realize the truth – this is all a gift – and the greatest gift of all is that the Lord died for our sins and adopted us as his children when we didn’t deserve it. When we can give thanks (no matter what our situation or condition) then we know we are truly healed.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright @1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.