Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?” [Luke 17:17 (NLT)]
In the Old and New Testaments, the Hebrew word tsara’ath and its Greek equivalent of aphe lepras are translated as leprosy. In Biblical times, however, leprosy had a much broader meaning than the condition we now call Hansen’s disease. It included any skin condition that spread over the body. Along with Hansen’s, it could have been anything from psoriasis and dermatitis to impetigo, scabies, or alopecia and, unlike other ailments, it was believed to have been caused by sin. Anyone considered a leper was shunned as an outcast and required to live in camps outside the city. Lepers had to tear their clothing, leave their hair uncombed, cover their mouths, and warn people of their presence by shouting out “Unclean! Unclean!”
On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing between Galilee and Samaria when, rather than shouting, “Unclean!” ten lepers called out, “Master, have mercy on us!” In response to the lepers’ pleas, Jesus simply told them to go and show themselves to the priests. While this seems odd to us in the 21st century, it made perfect sense to the lepers. It was the priests who inspected afflictions and decided whether someone was diseased or healed and could return to society. Being told to see the priests meant they were cured of their affliction. The healing, however, only began when the lepers showed enough faith in Jesus to depart and head into town.
All ten obeyed Jesus by starting out for the priests and they were blessed for their obedience by healing. Unlike blocked arteries or diabetes, skin conditions like leprosy are recognizable so these men didn’t need to see the priest to know they’d been healed. Imagine their conversation as they walked down the road. After glancing at a fellow leper, one might have exclaimed, “Hey, Uri, wasn’t there a big abscess 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 scabs? Jacob, your eyes are clear and you no longer limp!” Although they needed a priest to officially declare them clean, their clear skin and strong limbs told them they’d been miraculously healed.
Nevertheless, before they could return to their community, they needed a priest to declare them clean and the process, described in Leviticus 13 and 14, would take over a week’s time. After the priests examined the men outside of town, an elaborate ritual involving two birds, a cedar rod, scarlet string, hyssop, a sacrifice, and the sprinkling of blood would be performed. Still not officially clean, the men needed to wash their clothes, bathe, shave, and stay away from their homes for seven more days. It was not until the eighth day, when they made five different offerings and were anointed with oil on the right earlobe, thumb, and big toe that the lepers would be declared clean!
The lepers had several days of rituals ahead of them before returning to society but Jesus and the disciples were just passing through the area. Jesus wouldn’t be around in eight days to receive their thanks. Instead of rushing to the priests, the healed lepers should have turned around and rushed back to thank their healer. It was only one leper, a Samaritan, who thought to return to Jesus and thank the rabbi from Nazareth who showed mercy on him. Anxious to enjoy their return to health and community, the other nine thought first of themselves and kept going.
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 congratulated themselves on their clear skin 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—so was his very soul!
When our lives are blessed, do we thank God or do we just move on with our lives? Are we in such a rush to enjoy our blessings that we fail to thank the Giver of All Gifts? My mother never let me play with any of my birthday or Christmas gifts until I’d written a thank you note to the giver. What if God did the same thing?
What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday? [attributed to Max Lucado]
Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. [1 Chronicles 16:8-10 (NLT)]
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