Luke 17.11-19 — The Ten Lepers

We all had this story in SS, about the 9 who ran excitedly away, but the one who turned back to say thank you. Luke has been talking about discipleship and what it really takes to be a disciple of Jesus. We’ve read about responsible decision-making, functional faith, and direct obedience. We meet ten men who have leprosy, and we know that despite that this is an actual event, like everything else, it’s just dripping in symbolism. Leprosy in the Bible is often a symbol of sin. Ten is often a number to express “the whole of.” These “stood at a distance.” The picture is clear. They came to meet Jesus, but dared not approach. But they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us.” We have here a pretty clear symbolic picture of sinners wanting a relationship with God, but knowing they can’t approach on their own, so they call out for him to reach out to them.
V. 14: “When they saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ ” He didn’t even say, “You’re healed,” or “As you wish” or anything. I think he is following up the previous teaching of v. 10: when the master tells you to do something, you just do it. “If you just called me ‘Master,’ then do what I tell you.” It’s just the opposite of Lk. 6.46: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” But there’s also an undertone of symbolism, as we’ve seen many times in Luke: religion, or relationship with Jesus? The “show yourselves to the priests” is a religious thing. It’s DOING something, like works. But Jesus’ point is clearly FAITH: “As they went, they were cleansed.”
One of them returns to worship. One. Even though it’s a historical occasion, it is a parable in life. Jesus has been teaching about how many hear teaching and how few respond, how many receive blessings from God, and yet so few respond in faith to the revelation. Here the same truth lives itself out in a visual aid: ten receive the healing, all ten notice, but only one responds in gratitude and praise. Nine think that it’s all about the priest; one realizes it’s all about Jesus.
But the one who returned?  A SAMARITAN! Jesus drives his point deeper with the twist of letting the responsive man be a Samaritan: not one of the religious elite, or even one of “Abraham’s own”—a Jew, but an outcast and rejected person—the last, the lost, and the least. It’s a living portrayal of John 1.11-12; Lk. 14.15-24.
Jesus says, “Hey, where are the other nine?” Given that the other nine represent those who have received the Word, have tasted of the Spirit, and God has revealed himself to them, their lack of response is not only rude, not only incomprehensible, but also damnable. Jn. 3.16-21; Heb. 6.1-10; parables of Jesus ending in “they will be cast into eternal fire…”
“Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” It was a biting comment, since Jesus was in the middle of a Jewish village. But again, this is Jn. 1.11-12 and Lk. 14.15-24. If his own won’t receive him, and those who have heard don’t respond, then go out on the streets and invite “the foreigners.” Let anyone in who will actually come in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *