Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? [Luke 17:17 (NLT)]
Leprosy (what we know as Hansen’s disease) is an infectious disease affecting the peripheral nerves, causing severe skin sores and nerve damage in the arms and legs. It may also strike the eyes and the thin tissue lining of the nose. Its main symptom is disfiguring skin lesions, lumps, or bumps on the skin. When used in the Bible, the word leprosy can also refer to any number of other skin diseases such as psoriasis or skin cancer. Whatever the cause, anyone considered a leper was shunned as an outcast. In fact, lepers had to tear their clothing, leave their hair uncombed, cover their mouths and warn people of their presence by shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!”
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when ten lepers called to Him, “Master, have mercy on us!” Whether these pariahs were asking for healing or simply begging for money and scraps of food is unclear. For us in the 21st century, Jesus’ response seems strange—He told them to go show themselves to the priests. The priests weren’t healers but they were the ones who inspected afflictions and decided whether someone was diseased or healed. Whether the lepers assumed they’d been given the brush off by this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth or thought they’d been healed is unclear. The Bible does tell us that, as they were going to see the priests, they were cleansed of their disease.
Leprosy wasn’t an invisible disease like blocked arteries, diabetes, or pancreatic cancer; it was clearly recognizable. Just imagine the lepers’ conversation as they walked on the road. One man might have grumbled, “I thought he was a healer—fat lot of good he did for us!” After glancing at a fellow leper, however, he might have exclaimed, “Hey, Uri, wasn’t there a big sore on your leg? I don’t see it now.” Perhaps Uri responded, “You’re right! And I can feel my toes again and my nose is no longer bleeding. Look at your arm, Asa, what happened to those lumps? Uriah, your eyes are clear and you no longer limp!” Although they needed a priest to officially declare them healthy, their clear skin and strong limbs told them they’d been healed. Before their very eyes, their bodies had been restored.
Being declared clean by the priest was a time-consuming task. The priest would have to examine the men outside of town and an elaborate ritual involving two birds, a cedar rod, scarlet string, hyssop, a sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood would be performed. Then, the once unclean person had to wash his clothes, bathe, shave and stay away from his home for seven days. Still not officially clean, on the eighth day he had to make five different offerings and be anointed with oil on his right earlobe, thumb, and big toe. Only then was he officially declared clean!
Ten lepers obeyed Jesus by starting out for the priests and all were blessed for their obedience by healing. Their healing, however, happened long before they ever saw the priests. Knowing they had more than a week’s worth of rituals ahead of them, one would think they’d want to go back and thank Jesus but just one leper (a Samaritan) did. Nine, anxious to return to family and friends, were thinking only of themselves but one was thinking of the rabbi from Nazareth who had mercy on him. I don’t know to what the nine attributed their miraculous recovery but the tenth rightly attributed it to God. Shouting “Praise God!” he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him. Nine were congratulating themselves on their good health but one gave all the glory to God. The Samaritan didn’t need a priest to declare him clean—Jesus did that when he said, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” Moreover, it wasn’t just his leprous body that was restored to health; it was his very soul!
When our lives are blessed, do we give credit where credit is due? Do we thank the Giver of All Gifts or do we hurry back to our old lives? Jesus, restorer of both body and soul, thank you for your loving mercy!