a) Jesus Heals Ten Lepers
“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’ ” (Luke 17:11-19)
Every year the Children of Israel celebrated the great Festival of the Passover, when they remembered how God graciously and powerfully freed them from slavery in Egypt and the hand of the Pharaoh. It was on the occasion of this festival that Jesus was going to Jerusalem and encountered these ten victims of leprosy.
According to custom the ten victims called to Jesus from a distance: “Have pity on us!” Jesus, again out of compassion, simply uttered a word: “Go, show yourself to the priests.” They obeyed and they were cleansed.
Why did Jesus direct the ten leprosy victims to the priests? According to the Old Testament law those healed of leprosy needed confirmation of their recovery from the priests. The priests would declare them free to move normally once more within society. Today also, it makes sense that anyone who has experienced miraculous healing should share the experience with his doctor or other medical personnel.
From this momentous event we can learn many other lessons. All of us are aware of the despised status of leprosy victims. Traditionally, society has ignored, shunned, and ostracized them. True, we do not openly hurt them or abuse them. But often we avoid them, even their shadow, making sure we have no communication with them. We are clean, we think, but they are unclean. God favours us; He punishes them, or so we may think and feel, even though we know how such thoughts and feelings may be wrong.
Have you ever touched a victim of leprosy? Would you? Jesus did (Mark 1:41)! For Jesus knew that God created them, loved them, cared for them; therefore, so did Jesus!
Even more, the Gospel account tells us that at least one of the victims was a Samaritan. He was not only physically a leper; ethnically, in the understanding of many of the Jews at that time, to be a Samaritan was to be ethnically leprous. He was, so to speak, doubly despised, an outcast. Yet Jesus, a Jew, healed this doubly despised Samaritan!
Just as instructive is the Samaritan’s response to Jesus and Jesus’ response to the Samaritan’s response. The Samaritan, the one least expected to recognise the kindness of his benefactor, was the sole person to return to give thanks to Jesus! It was as if healing of his body progressed into healing of his mind and his heart – of his whole being!
“What then happened to the other nine?” asked Jesus. Was it that they had received what they wanted and nothing else mattered, even giving thanks to God?
And so, once more, what is more important to you in your life: the gift or the Giver? For those of us who know that ingratitude is the same as blasphemy (kufr), this question becomes that much more pertinent.
Where were the nine? Since they did not return to give thanks, dare we ask whether Jesus made a mistake in healing them? Do we sometimes worry about being “too generous”, “too compassionate”? We will remember again how God’s rain and sunshine fall on the fields of the just and the unjust.
Jesus touched them, healed them (Matthew 8:1-4). What an encouragement to all of us to remember that as God loves them, so should we! What an impetus to scientists and researchers to develop effective treatment against leprosy as well as other diseases; to churches and missions throughout the world to establish hospitals and clinics to help the victims of leprosy and of other diseases, and even to rehabilitate them!
Have you heard about The Leprosy Mission? This wonderful organization and other similar organizations concerned with helping victims of leprosy have virtually solved the mysteries surrounding the cause, spread and cure of the disease. Will leprosy soon be eradicated from the face of earth as, by God’s grace, smallpox has been eradicated? Meanwhile today, through such institutions, patients receive free medicine, remain isolated only as long as they are infectious and, in general, receive humane treatment. Leprosy, for centuries considered incurable and a loathsome scourge, is now virtually curable. Deformities from leprosy can now be corrected by surgery and physiotherapy. Praise God for such progress!
And ponder once more what an inspiration and blessing even this brief portion of God’s Holy Bible has provided for countless victims of leprosy and their caregivers. Is there anything like it in other sacred writings?
Think, for example – and a wonderful example he was and still is! – of Father Damien de Veuster. Father Damien was born in Belgium in 1840, went to Hawaii in 1864 and served as a priest in a parish in Honolulu. At his own request he was transferred in 1873 from his more comfortable environment there to the isolated and desolate lepers’ colony on Molokai Island. There he went to live among those wretched victims of leprosy whom, in those days, society shamefully disposed of and abandoned to their fate. There he taught the hopeless victims to hope, to live rather than to die, to work and play, to cultivate and construct, to create and enjoy, and, not least, to love, because God, their Heavenly Father, loved them and cared for them – all of them and each one of them! – and expected them to love themselves and each other.
And it was there in that colony that what Father Damien knew might well happen to him actually did happen years later: He himself contracted the dreaded disease.
What drove Father Damien to live in that desolate colony among those victims of leprosy and there also to die? What left him content to contract the disease and thereby to become truly one of them? Was it for the sake of human applause, or for some other selfish motive? What drove him, no doubt, was God’s constraining love, that love embodied in Jesus the Messiah, who bears our sicknesses and carries our sorrows, who touched and healed the leper – that love His Cross best symbolizes.
The healings of the Messiah: What power and inspiration they have generated – at that time and ever since! What incentives to drive us to Jesus for healing! And what motivation to share this love of God with others who do not know and understand!
How often, do you think, Father Damien nourished his heart and renewed his strength of spirit through these wonderful accounts in God’s Holy Book?
Do you ever speak with God in prayer about the sick, the handicapped, the oppressed?
(The above information on Father Damien is adapted from John Farrow, Damien the Leper, Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1994. For Sadan's brief and bitter account of his life as a victim of leprosy and as a leprosy patient, yet his joy that through this affliction he met a wonderful couple and discovered God and His love, see Philip Yancey's Soul Survivor, Doubleday.)