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Ten Lepers

Ordinary 28 Year C

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St. Luke 17: 11 — 19

 

Introduction

In the early verses of Luke 17 we read of the Apostles asking our Lord to “increase our faith”. They wanted to be able to forgive and trust as He required, but they had found His standards a “tall order”, as we might say. His reply emphasised that to be a believer is not a matter for self-congratulation, because to be so is in fact a privilege, and its demands, merely one’s duties. So important is this understanding, that we attach in Appendix 1 a magnificent commentary on the text by Joseph Dillersberger.

St Luke carries on the theme of being privileged to have the faith, with an incident, almost like a parable. This continues not only to strengthen their faith, but also to expand its scope.

Click here for a printable copy of the text

 

Some Notes on our Text

Verse 11

As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled
through Samaria and Galilee.

To set the scene we find Jesus now on his way to Jerusalem, travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. The usual road in travelling from the north of Palestine would be through Galilee first, and then through Samaria. However, having been barred from the latter, he travelled along the boundary between the two regions, to the river Jordan, and then followed the course of that river down to Jericho, at which location we find him in the next chapter. (Remember, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem — his meandering spiritual journey, and it is nearing culmination.)

Verses 12 and 13

As he was entering a village, ten lepers met (him).
They stood at a distance from him

and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master!
Have pity on us!”

The group stood at a distance, and called out (i.e. called across to him) in a loud voice “Jesus, Master, have pity (or mercy) on us.” The scholars tell us the Greek text indicates their words suggest respectful (and hopeful) submission rather than an intimate relationship or any degree of following. By this time our Lord’s reputation as a worker of miracles had certainly spread widely. Their plea is a traditional request to be healed. They are all so miserable in their life as outcasts, that the members of this group completely overlook their membership of two races (Samaritan and Jew) who would normally never mix.

Verse 14

And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves
to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed.

Jesus did not immediately notice them, but when He saw them He gave them a very specific direction without any elaboration:

“Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

This order is implicitly a promise of healing and they know it, and respond accordingly. Normally this order would have been more appropriate after a cure, but these men ask no questions and make no demands — they all trust the One to whom they made their desperate plea.

Ryle has a helpful note on this verse.

Show yourselves unto the priests. The meaning of this direction
will be obvious to all who are familiar with the 13th and 14th chapters
of Leviticus. The priests were specially appointed by God to be the
judges of all leprous cases, to decide whether the leper was clean or
unclean, cured or uncured. Moreover there was a special injunction to
attend to the rules laid down in Leviticus about leprosy, in the book of
Deuteronomy: “Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe
diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall
teach you.”                                                                        (Deuteronomy 24: 8.)

A Jewish leper would, doubtless, take particular note of our Lord’s direction to “Go to the priests,” and accept it as a hint that he would hear good tidings on showing himself to them.

It has been doubted whether our Lord meant only the Jewish priests, in giving this direction. Some have thought that He meant the Samaritan leper to go to the Samaritan priests on Mount Gerizim. This however appears somewhat uncertain. There is no clear proof that the Samaritan priests undertook the decision of leprous cases.

The text continues:

“As they were going, they were cleansed”.

The delayed cure took place during their act of trust and obedience. Probably it was not far down the road, as our Lord was still to be found in the same location soon after.

Verses 15 and 16

And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned,
glorifying God in a loud voice;

and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was
a Samaritan.

Thus we observe one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He threw himself at the feet of Jesus, thanking him. He was a Samaritan. (almost the equivalent of a foreign pagan. Refer to Appendix 2 Note On The Samaritans from Geldenhuys’ commentary on Luke).

The other nine rushed off to be formally restored to their society so they could enjoy its benefits. (The structure of the Greek text indicates they were all cleansed at the same time.) Their casual attitude shows how little people can profit from exposure to miracles when it is really only the healing they are seeking: not the healer.

The Samaritan, on the other hand, reacted quite differently. His first thoughts were turned to his deliverer: he was so overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s mercy that he forgot all Samarian protocol about mixing with a Jew. All he could think of was in some way returning the kindness. Even at this exciting time, for him, the Healer took priority over the healing.

Thus the Samaritan alone demonstrates the quintescence of Jewish spirituality: to bless God — to give glory to God for His lovingkindness’s.

This is a moment to pause and make sure we take in the intended message of our Lord. One of the healed, and only one, as soon as he realised what had taken place, burst out, “in a loud voice”, giving glory to God as he made his way back to Jesus. This reaction obviously pleased our Lord, and the early Church held it up to its members to emulate.

Verses 17 and 18

Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?

Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

Jesus was moved by this man’s warmth and humility. Were not all ten made clean?” He asked, “Where are the other nine?” (In other words, “Shouldn’t they know better?”) We should note that the Jewish use of the term “stranger” or “foreigner” means literally: “One of another nation”.

This is a very important moment in the incident and our Lord focuses attention on it quite deliberately. It is commonly remarked that the nine let Him down: that it took a “foreigner” to do the proper thing. This observation is, of course, absolutely correct. However, if our judgment stops at assigning blame to the nine, and writing them off as unworthy of the miracle performed for their benefit, then we could easily miss the lesson our Lord is delivering. He constantly illustrates what is so very human, but not up to His standards. It is an ever-present danger which we also must be always on-guard to counter.

Verse 19

Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has
saved you.”

Our Lord then released the Samaritan from further display of gratitude and told him to go on his way. As He did so He made a most amazing statement — not that this man’s obedience led to his leprosy being cured, but much more spectacularly:

“Your faith has saved you”.

People who identify strongly with one particular form of religion are often offended when someone of a different religion is told, “Your faith has saved you”. It is often referred to as heresy to talk in this way. Our Lord, however, is emphatic in His explanation to the Samaritan. Thus He implies:

“When you ‘saw’ that you were healed, you beheld with the eye of inward faith, and you were the only one who did. This faith saved you — leading not only to your body being healed, but your soul also. All were cured, but you have been healed in the true and fullest sense of the word.”

 

Conclusion

It is surprising how many people there are who know virtually nothing of the Faith but can come out with the main points of this Gospel incident. People remember the gratitude of the one rather than the self pre-occupation of the nine. How grateful the Lord was for the one person’s profound appreciation. Therein lies an opportunity for us to show — not just think — real gratitude for the blessings we have received and to allow others to perceive this in us. In this way we acknowledge the goodness of God in our lives, and let others have an inside view of the value we place on our membership of God’s Household. Such seemingly minor actions on our part are the real frontier of evangelisation. They are incontestable and powerful evidence of the Presence of God.

Shalom!

 

Appendix 1

The Example of the Samaritan

From: The Gospel of St Luke by Joseph Dillersberger (1939)

In the first place our attention is once more drawn to the fact that all
this occurred on the journey. From the fact that it is explicitly stated
that “he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee″ nobody
should have drawn the conclusion that Luke was not aware of the places
passed through on the road to Jerusalem. On the contrary we must see
here a lengthening of the direct route to Jerusalem. Our Lord makes
His way along the boundary-line between Galilee and Samaria with the
object of prolonging His journey. This is exactly the same as with us.
This is the point which in this chapter is made again and again.
Something, the coming of which is most earnestly desired at the earliest
possible moment, is put off again and again. Now occurs the miracle on
the journey. It is intended to emphasise what Our Lord has previously
said about faith. The way is long, the goal is far distant, but support and
help come at the right time, often in wondrous wise. What we have to
do is to accept such wondrous aid from God in the right way. This the
lepers did not all understand because only one came to give thanks.
We must make no mistake about what went on in this man’s mind.
His behaviour shows the degree to which he was overcome with
gratitude. We shall not be wrong in seeing the reason for this in the
fact that he was a Samaritan. As a Samaritan he could not comprehend
the fact that he was cured by Our Lord, Who belonged like the nine
others to the Jewish race. Similarly, the Jews thought it quite natural
that Our Lord should heal them. They had already heard of quite a
number of miracles worked by Him in their own land on members of
their own people. Thus they thought less of thanking Our Lord than
of fulfilling the precepts of the law which had to be observed before
they could return to normal life. #

The Samaritan, however, felt his healing as such an extraordinary gift
of God that everything else, even Our Lord’s strict order to show
himself to the priest, took second place for the time being he simply
had to go back and give thanks first.

Thus he became a complete model for the apostles in connection with
that proper frame of mind which Our Lord had just recently
recommended to them in His preaching. In Him they could see clearly
the spirit of the servant who recognises that he is an unprofitable
servant, and by contrast the circumstances in which the servant expects
kindness and thanks from his master. Under the Old Testament
nothing had been left undone to impress on the pious Israelite that he
was God’s servant, and yet in spite of this, Israel had seen nothing but
its own election and its own special position and thus always expected
from the Lord some special favour. # It is nothing but this which
Our Lord fears may arise among His apostles and His disciples.
To be ″a servant of Jesus Christ″ (see Romans 1: 1) is indeed a very
special and very extraordinary favour. But in it lurks the threat of that
same danger. The servant can easily be conscious only of his own
special position, and then just accept all graces and benefits as though
they were a matter of course. He can consider himself not merely as
″servant” but as “servant of Jesus Christ” and expect that alone to suffice.

But by means of the example of the Samaritan, Our Lord tries to show
that this is not how things should be. # All aid from God, including
God’s miracle, they ought to accept as unparalleled grace, and never
be satisfied that they can thank Him enough. It is only a genuine servant
in whom lives the true spirit of service who is beside himself like this
Samaritan when¬ever he happens to receive a sign of his master′s
favour. Finally Our Lord concludes by praising this man’s faith.
Without doubt a right faith is what is here involved. For no man who
has faith as a grain of mustard seed according to Our Lord’s earlier
description, can ever pride himself on his performance as though he
had earned favour or distinction. He knows only too well how he
depends completely on God and that all good comes from God alone.

Therefore his only feeling is one of gratitude and humility.

Footnote: #

We make this comment in response to three points raised in the above notes.
We observe here a familiar situation both in the story about the ten lepers as well as
the commentary. Dillersberger correctly reports on the situation of the nine Jewish
lepers ― not, let it be emphasised, to demean the Jewish Faith to which they
belonged, but to highlight how natural their actions were. We say natural because
they were so very human. The point our Lord made, as Dillersberger so skillfully
demonstrates, is that His followers could just as easily slip into this mode of thinking.
The incident was the perfect teachable moment for Him to ensure His followers
would forthwith take precautions to avoid such a state of affairs.

So many commentators miss the point and leave their readers with the view: the
Jews were being superior, selfish and spoilt. That they were Jewish is an integral
fact since the Jewish religious scene could not be otherwise.

However the warning is for all religious people pointing out how human it is to
take things (even favours) for granted.

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of Appendix 1 The Example of the Samaritan

 

Appendix 2

Note On The Samaritans

After the carrying off of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, a large number
of Israelites still remained behind in Samaria and the surrounding
country. They had become interbred with the pagan immigrants who
had been sent into the country by the Assyrians, and thus a new race,
the Samaritans, gradually originated. Nevertheless they had in many
respects still remained Jewish in their religion, although they accepted
only the first five books of the Old Testament and established their own
sanctuary on Mount Gerizim near Shechem and did not go and worship
in Jerusalem. Even after the destruction of their temple on Gerizim by
the Jewish Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus, they retained their own
form of worship (cf. John 4: 20.) Until recently there were about a
hundred Samaritans at Nablus in Palestine (the ancient Shechem)
remaining faithful to their views and customs. These have now crossed
into the territory of the state of Israel and settled there.
In New Testament times (and long before) there prevailed a violent
enmity between Jews and Samaritans. In the hour of common affliction,
however, such differences are often wiped out, as in the case of this
group of Jewish lepers amongst whom there was at least one Samaritan.
                                                                                    Norval Geldenhuys. 1951.

 

 Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of Appendix 2 Note On The Samaritans

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Ordinary 28 ― Year C

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

 (Mark 16: 15)

 The real Jesus is the real answer to the real needs of the world.

  Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
  remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating how you
  can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.

Ten Lepers

Ordinary Sunday 28      Year C           St. Luke 17: 11 — 19

1     “And one of them, realising he had been healed, returned
glorifying God in a loud voice”. We can be quick to condemn the nine
lepers who got carried away with their good fortune — but we need
to ask when did we last burst out in praising God for His great
blessings? Is the gift of the Holy Faith not equal to any miracle? When
did our family or friends hear us glorify God in a loud voice, in
gratitude for the Faith or any of God’s wonders? If we hear this type
of question arising out of the account, then we are truly listening to our
Messiah with the ears of the heart.

2     It is often remarked that Jews in our Lord’s time, saw themselves
as enjoying special favours as a chosen people. Undoubtedly some
permitted that to put themselves on a pedestal; but the average
member of the Faith in those days was simply not in a position to think
in that way. In our story, the nine who appeared to lack real gratitude,
had succumbed to acting in a worldly way which tends to put God to
the side. Our Lord never lets an opportunity go by without His
highlighting the need for us all to be ever watchful about our
relationship with Him. We need to ask — have we ever taken our Faith
for granted?

3     Most of us find it so very natural to classify other people as
according to criteria we have chosen for the purpose. Our Lord
demonstrated how when the ten saw themselves as all afflicted with
leprosy, there were no barriers or privileged individuals. Perhaps if
we were to take a closer look at ourselves, we may find we have an
awful lot more in common with others than we at first thought. In
our outreach to them, we need to share the joy of belonging to God’s
Household of which they too can be equal members, if they wish.

      Let us pray for one another in our outreach — modest or
spectacular as God ordains — that we may find ways to demonstrate
(not just proclaim) that our fellow human beings deserve our
friendship and acceptance as God’s family.

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections

 

Luke 17: 11 — 19

Ordinary 28 Year C

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

11     3 4 As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through
         Samaria and Galilee.

12     As he was entering a village, ten lepers met (him). They stood
         at a distance from him

13     and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”

14      And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the
          priests.” 5 As they were going they were cleansed.

15      And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying
          God in a loud voice;

16      and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a
          Samaritan.

17      Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are
          the other nine?

18      Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

19      Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

3 [11-19] This incident recounting the thankfulness of the cleansed Samaritan leper is narrated only in Luke’s gospel and provides an instance of Jesus holding up a non-Jew ( Luke 17:18) as an example to his Jewish contemporaries (cf Luke 10:33 where a similar purpose is achieved in the story of the good Samaritan). Moreover, it is the faith in Jesus manifested by the foreigner that has brought him salvation ( Luke 17:19; cf the similar relationship between faith and salvation in Luke 7:50; 8:48, 50).

4 [11] Through Samaria and Galilee: or, “between Samaria and Galilee.”

5 [14] See the note on Luke 5:14.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition
(c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C.
and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of
the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing
from the copyright owner.

 

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