Synopsis: Our physical body and personality are dead things without God’s life-giving power. When we forget that we are so much more than these dead things, we suffer from spiritual leprosy. We feel as if we’re already dead, and that’s no way to live.
Scriptures: Luke 17: 11-19
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A story is told of a man who was lost in the woods. Later, in describing the experience, he told how frightened he was and how he had even finally knelt and prayed. Someone asked, “Did God answer your prayer?” “Oh, no,” the man replied. “A guide came along and showed me the way out.”
Like this man, many people are blind to the blessings that God showers upon us every day. Sooner or later, they end up with a case of spiritual leprosy. Fortunately, there is a cure. That’s what today’s gospel reading is all about.
At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus had been making his way toward Jerusalem where he would complete his mission to glorify God. In Luke chapter 9, he began preparing his disciples for his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. After Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the “Messiah of God,” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone, but then he said in verse 22, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
He didn’t say yet that this will take place in Jerusalem, but later in Luke chapter 13, he hints at it. In verses 32-33, after some Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him, Jesus says, “Go and tell that fox (Herod) for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day, I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’”
It won’t be until Luke chapter 18 that Jesus tells his disciples straightforwardly that his final destination is Jerusalem. In verse 31, he says, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” We also read there that the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying because that knowledge was purposely hidden from them.
In our gospel story for today, we read that Jesus is traveling along the border of Samaria and Galilee with his disciples on his way to Jerusalem. Samaria was sandwiched between Galilee, where Jesus lived with his family as a child, and Judea, where Jerusalem was located. He enters a village, and there he is approached by ten men suffering from leprosy.
They kept their distance, as they petitioned him saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jewish law required them to keep their distance, wear torn clothing, keep their heads uncovered, and cover their lips and shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” wherever they went to warn others to stay away.
Back in ancient times, illnesses were unfortunately considered God’s punishment for sin. This was certainly the case with leprosy. It was a horrible disease that, in its worst forms, slowly ate away at a person’s flesh. It wasn’t uncommon for a severely diseased finger or toe to just fall off – and sometimes an entire hand or foot.
The milder forms of the disease, where the skin was simply discolored, typically lasted no more than a few years and often cleared up on its own. But the worst type could last from nine to thirty years and eventually killed its victim.
If this physical suffering wasn’t bad enough, the social ostracism made the experience of the illness even worse. Jewish law cut them off from society totally – even from their own families. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that leprous men were treated as if they were already dead.
There were ten of them, and we know one of them was a Samaritan. We can be fairly certain that the other nine were Jewish, given where Jesus was traveling. It’s interesting to note that the Samaritan was welcome among the band of leprous Jews. I guess being treated like “dead men” strips away all pride.
Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. According to Jewish law, the only way they could be integrated back into Jewish society is if they were declared “clean,” and the only way to be declared clean was to be examined by a priest.
Interesting, right? Since they were unclean because of sin, not because of illness, they needed to be examined by a priest, not a physician. They did have physicians in ancient times; in fact, Luke, the author of this gospel, was a physician.
Along the way to see the priest, they were all miraculously healed. But only one of them came back to Jesus, praising God with a loud voice – the Samaritan. Jesus asks about the other nine, pointing out that only the foreigner properly expressed gratitude for his healing.
How can we apply this story to our modern times? Well, there are many suffering from spiritual leprosy today because they believe they are nothing more than this physical body, and they know what happens to it in the end. So deep down, they feel as if they are already dead, and that’s no way to live.
Some act stoic about it and make fun of people who believe there’s something more to us than just dirt. Some wish they could join with Christ, but they don’t feel worthy enough to approach him. And some believe they are “born again in Christ,” but that’s just up in their heads. Their hearts haven’t changed.
Make no mistake; they are all frightened. Death is frightening to those who believe it’s real. Once we truly join with Christ, we know we don’t die. Death is an illusion. We have eternal life in Christ.
How can those suffering from spiritual leprosy be cured? The same way these ten men were cured.
First, the leprous men call Jesus “Master.” They acknowledge Jesus’ authority. Whenever we need healing of any kind (physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual), we should remember the Lord’s words in Matthew 28:18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The Power of Christ within us has the authority to make us whole according to the Will of God, so we shouldn’t hesitate to pray to the Lord for healing.
In her daily devotional, Trusting God Day by Day, Joyce Meyer writes, “God will do one of two things if you have a problem: He will either remove the problem (which is always our first choice!) or He will give you the strength, the grace, the ability to go through the problem. I know we don’t like the going through part, but if that is what God chooses, we need to trust Him.”
To trust in God’s Will takes spiritual maturity. It takes trusting that God loves us and knows what is best for us. And it takes accepting the fact that Life is not designed to make the personal self happy. The personal self might think we need a certain challenge in our life like we need a hole in the head, but that challenge might be just what we need to grow spiritually – and that’s why we’re here.
The leprous men also ask Jesus for mercy. When we ask for grace, we’re asking to get something we don’t deserve. When we ask for mercy, we’re asking to not get something we do deserve. In asking for mercy, these men were asking to be spared from death. In Romans chapter 6 verse 23, Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death … but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I like how Luke calls them “leprous men,” not just “leapers.” He’s pointing to their underlying humanity concealed by their leprous condition. Our underlying spiritual Essence is concealed by our physical bodies and personalities, which are basically “dead things.”
Some ministers will argue that this human nature is the consequence of our “original sin.” I personally don’t believe that. Our human nature is what it is. It is neither good nor bad. Without our human nature, the Divine within would have no physical form or personality with which to experience life.
And there are so many humans on this earth with so many different forms and with such a variety of personalities that I’m sure the Divine is having a grand time experiencing all of them and deeply appreciates our human nature. But our human nature is a dead thing without God’s life-giving power.
We’ve forgotten this in our modern world, but those of the ancient world were keenly aware that without God, we are dust. King David wrote in Psalm 103 “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But … the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.”
Ancient people like David and Paul knew they were dead things, but they also knew that God loves them eternally. Do we know that? You can really tell who knows it and who doesn’t especially at funerals. You can see the fear in the eyes of those who wonder if what’s lying in that coffin is all they really are.
When we ask for mercy, we are asking the Holy Spirit to cure us – to remind us of the Truth. We are infinitely more than these “dead things.” Each one of us. The Divine is the same in us all – one Consciousness experiencing life through a variety of forms.
The leprous men trust Jesus. It took a lot of trust for them to come to him. There was no cure for leprosy at that time. If they had gone to a physician, he probably would have said, “Oh man, you guys have leprosy. Sorry, I can’t help you. There’s no cure for that. So, you know, just stay away from me, OK?”
There are some illnesses today that we don’t understand, so we treat the afflicted in much the same way. People with diseases like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, even cancer are often treated like lepers in our society – and even some people who aren’t sick like the poor and the homeless – as if poverty and homelessness were some infectious disease or contagious karma.
Jesus says, “I don’t care what disease you have or what your situation is; there’s always a chance for new life if you trust in God.” And the “trust test” was for them to make “a journey without evidence.” To go to the priests before there was any proof that they were healed. To “act as if.”
Luke doesn’t record whether the ten lepers engaged in any discussion on their way to the priests. We can imagine any of them to say, “Why are we going to the priests? We aren’t healed, and if we aren’t healed, then this is a useless journey.” And maybe an optimist among them replied, “Maybe, but what do we have to lose?”
When Jesus states, “Your faith has made you well” in verse 19, the Greek word used is “pistis.” It doesn’t mean adherence to a religion or set of doctrines. It means trust. So, a better translation of Jesus words would be, “Your trust has made you well.”
The mind is a tricky thing. We often resist the healing God is offering us because we have a negative attitude. We keep complaining about what’s wrong instead of expecting healing. When we stop resisting healing in this way and start “acting as if,” the results can be miraculous.
Finally, one of the leprous men returns to Jesus, praising God. Jesus asks, “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” It might appear that Jesus is drilling the Samaritan about why his buddies haven’t shown up to give thanks – like some ministers drill family members about why other family members aren’t in church.
It might also seem rude that Jesus calls the man who returned “this foreigner,” but in Greek, the term simply meant non-Jew. Actually, he isn’t even speaking to the Samaritan. He is asking this question of the crowd that was following him to Jerusalem – a crowd that probably consisted mostly of Jews. It was a rhetorical question: a question asked not to get an answer, but to create a dramatic effect or to make a point.
Praising God is built into every aspect of Jewish life – Jews praise God for everything even for little things that may seem quite trivial to us – yet only this non-Jew took the opportunity to praise God for something as monumental as a miracle.
Jesus’ question could be better phrased, “Isn’t it ironic?”
Certainly, we might like to identify more with this grateful Samaritan and to pass judgement on those other ungrateful schmucks. What reasons might they have had for not returning to praise God?
Maybe one thought the disease had finally just cleared up on its own, so there was no one to thank but his lucky stars. Maybe another didn’t make the connection between Jesus’ words to go show himself to the priests and his healing, like the lost fellow in our story who didn’t make the connection between his prayer and the guide showing up.
Maybe another figured that God owed him one because he had a hard life. Maybe another didn’t want to go back to Jesus because – as much as he was happy to be healed – he didn’t really want to do what it took to follow Jesus. Maybe some of them were too busy planning their homecoming parties. Maybe the other nine didn’t want to walk back with a despised Samaritan.
Maybe we see a glimpse of ourselves in some of these schmucks.
In the business of our lives, it’s so easy to forget to thank God for our blessings. But the more we do that, the more we deny the power of God as the foundation of our lives, and the more we slip into spiritual leprosy, and the more we begin to wonder if we are nothing more than these “dead things,” and the more we feel separate from others.
So, you see, God doesn’t need us to praise Him. We need it.
We need it because we need constant reminders of who we are – in the busyness of our lives – because it’s so easy to get swallowed up by the illusion of our personal selves and this world – and forget who we are – to lose the knowledge of our salvation. We can’t actually lose our salvation, but we can forget.
So every day of our lives, let us be grateful to our merciful God, who has healed our spiritual leprosy through the knowledge of salvation given to us through the selfless service of Our Lord Jesus Christ and who reminds us of our salvation through the Power of His Holy Spirit, so that every day of our lives we may arise and go out and do the good work that He has given us to do.
Let’s pray together: Lord, when we need healing, may we remember Your Cure: to come to You, to act “as if,” and to return to give thanks to God, so that we may never forget the saving knowledge that because you love us eternally, we are so much more than our human nature. Amen.
Chuek, Michael. “Where are the Other Nine?” ethicsdaily.com, 22 Nov. 2012, ethicsdaily.com/where-are-the-other-nine-cms-20240/.
Cole, Steven J. “Lesson 79: How to Respond to God’s Blessings (Luke 17:11-19).” Bible.org, bible.org/seriespage/lesson-79-how-respond-god-s-blessings-luke-1711-19.
Davis, D. Mark. “Cleanse, Cure, and Make Whole.” leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com, 6 Oct 2019, leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2013/10/cleanse-cure-and-make-whole.html.
Meyer, Joyce. Trusting God Day by Day (p. 338). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.
Mitchell, Kristen L. “Proper 23C: Faith that Makes Us Well.” modernmetanoia.org, modernmetanoia.org/2016/09/26/proper-23c-faith-that-makes-us-well/.