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Out of the ten who received mercy only the one, from whom the least was expected, returned to give thanks.
As Jesus went to Jerusalem he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a certain village, ten men who were lepers stood afar off. They lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
When Jesus saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." As they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
So Jesus answered, "Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well."
Luke 17:11-19 NKJV, condensed
The Gang of Ten
Leprosy was their common bond. These were men who had the misfortune to contract the dreaded skin disease. It was contagious, had no cure and presumed a slow death. Their faces and appendages grew numb and white and eventually, little by little, the flesh dropped off.
If it's true that we are what other people think we are, then these poor lepers thought they were suffering because of past sins. Nine of them were Jews; one was a despised Samaritan. But since they were alone and vulnerable, social barriers and prejudices were no longer important to them. Adversity makes friends wherever they can be found.
These were outcasts, forbidden from having physical contact with anyone except other lepers. They could not farm, trade or barter because no one would chance touching anything from their hand. Lepers lived on the outskirts of town, just close enough so faithful family members or compassionate villages could drop off daily rations.
As Jesus approached the village, they came out from the shadows and with a united voice, cried for mercy. "Please do something to help us!" It was a look-at-me cry. Without further words, the text says Jesus told them to do what the law of Moses required for their re-entry into society. Jesus never touched them, didn't do anything miraculous, neither did he call upon God. He simply told them to be on their way. "Go on. Get out of here. Find the temple priests and show them your skin."
What would you have done? Was it foolishness to obey that commanding voice? Or was it faith? When they left Jesus' presence, they were still lepers, but as they went off up the road toward Jerusalem, they were healed.
Although the distinction between Jew and Samaritan didn't seem all that significant when this gang of ten were lepers, yet when they were healed, their eyes were once more opened to their differences. The Jews could return to their families and their synagogue, but the one from Samaria could not join them. He was not welcome into their culture. The hostility between the two groups was too great. They could not take him home because he was a Samaritan. Much like a soldier in a far away land who fathers a child--when he goes home, he thinks long and hard before taking that child with him. His son or daughter may not be welcome, nor benefit his future.
In essence what happened to these ten lepers is that nine of them moved backwards in time to the old, uncompromising religious traditions. The Samaritan moved forward into the transforming grace of God's eternal kingdom. Nine embraced the customary beliefs; one aligned himself with the forgiveness of Jesus. And because he did this, not only was his body cleansed, his soul and spirit were also made whole. Not only did he see that he was healed from his leprosy, he also saw that he was one of God's lost ones who was now found. His faith was making him well in every way, and filling him with heartfelt gratitude and praise.
Ten had cried out for mercy from afar. One praised God up close and became a new man with new vision. Ten obeyed the voice of Jesus to go find the priests. One turned around and ran toward Jesus instead. He broke with the gang and took individual action. That's what it took to become clean and holy in God's sight. He traded his leprosy for the contagious love of God.
Where were the nine, Jesus wanted to know. But Barbara Brown Taylor believes the question for us is "Where is the tenth? Where is the one who followed his heart instead of his instructions?" Where is "the Samaritan" with the unconventional ideas about where and how to worship God? Where is the one who recognizes that wholeness is a gift from above, who encounters God in their healing and discovers that dialogue with the divine does not end with lament but with joy? Where is the one who returns to say, "Thank you." #10, wherever you are--Arise and go; your faith has made you well!
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Share an example of a time when you needed help and you didn't care where it came from.
The Jews and the Samaritans had been at odds with each other for centuries. When Jesus praised the Samaritan, his words were unpopular, uncomfortable and created resentment. If Jesus were telling the same story in our society, who would be the nine in the majority, who would be the one who was different, and what would be the disease from which they were healed? Use your imagination to come up with a variety of possibilities. Do any of these scenarios cause you discomfort or raise resentments? Discuss why Jesus would say things which displeased his audience?
The lepers had been wandering around, on the outside looking in. Then they spotted Jesus. Notice who spoke first. It wasn't Jesus; it was the ten lepers. If there is a message here, what is it? Do you think if the lepers had not asked for help, Jesus would have walked by without stopping?
Jesus was being a traditionalist when he told them to show themselves to the priest. That was straight from the law of Moses. What was unique was that Jesus didn't heal them first, he sent them off while they were still lepers! What are some reactions you might expect from these lepers in that situation? How would you have responded?II Corinthians 5:7 says: We walk by faith, not by sight. How does that verse apply to the healing of the ten lepers?
Nine of the lepers followed Jesus' instructions precisely. One of them wanted to return to Jesus immediately and express his gratitude. How do you explain the fact that the one who disobeyed the instructions became the hero of the story?
"Ten people are cured of their leprosy; but only one is made well." Explain what that means. Contrast what happened to the nine at the temple, to what happened when one turned around and went to the Living Temple.
Ingratitude is a common sin. We take God's many blessings for granted and neglect to give thanks! The tenth leper showed up the others by showing up to give praise for his healing. How do you rate on the scorecard of praise and gratitude? Are you showing up with a happy and thankful heart? If praise is the music of faith, what kind of tune are you playing?