Benny Nalkara, CMI
“Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” may be considered as an a typical question by Jesus during his earthly life, especially in the context of the healings He performed. The story of the healing of ten lepers and of returning of only one of them to express gratitude to Jesus is a unique narrative to the Gospel of Luke (17:11-19) and in that story we find this great lesson of the Christian discipleship- to have a grateful heart in life. Through the testimony of the one Samaritan leper who “returned” Jesus to return his indebtedness, Jesus presents before us that the real faith would always pulsate with gratitude.
In the Gospels, we have the descriptions of around 20 healings and seven deliverances that are performed by Jesus. Among them only two are the healing of leprosy. The other healing story of a leper is mentioned in the synoptic Gospels (Mt 8:1-4; Mk 1:40-45; Lk 5:12-16). In those times, leprosy was considered a sort of curse from God, of profound impurity. To be declared unclean because of leprosy meant that the unfortunate person had to live separated outside the camp. Ostracized from the community, they were left homeless without the support structure of family and friends. Chapter 13 of the book of Leviticus outlines specific procedures for dealing with a person suspected of being infected with leprosy. There were also procedures to declare one clean and to be taken back into the mainstream of the society (Lev 14:2-32). A priest would have to inspect the lesion, and after a period of monitoring and observation, if the condition improves, the person would be declared ritually “clean.”
\Luke’s narrative of the healing of the ten lepers is distinct from other healing stories mainly because of the emphasis placed by Jesus on the need of being grateful to God for the blessings received and the only returned one was a “foreigner.” Jesus’ actions here in the episode recall how Elisha cleansed a foreign leper while living in Samaria (2 Kgs 5:1-14). The Samaritan leper who returned to him is glorified as a model for all in this regard. All the ten lepers were healed. While all the other nine lepers in the story were healed from their skin disease, the tenth one – the Samaritan was healed of his “heart disease.” The other nine were Jews and their going to the temple as part of their purification rites prescribed by the law shows that their hearts were still not open to the saviour. On the other hand the Samaritan was able to see the saviour and the anointed one in the person of Jesus and was ready to give thanks to God prior to any other ritual obligations. The distinction emphasized by Jesus between the “one” and the rest “nine” is in fact a distinction between the gentiles and the chosen Israel. The Jews who were running after the rituals should have returned to Jesus Christ in order to glorify God. When one understands that every blessing in life is a gratuitous gift from God, his/her life will be filled with gratitude.
The “returning” of the Samaritan leper was not a disobedience of the law, but it was to proclaim the glory of God. He didn’t go to fulfil the rituals of purification or to get the attestation of the priest at once like the other nine, but he returned to Jesus. He understood that the healing he received was an invitation “to see” God in Jesus and to give thanks to Him. The Samaritan leper realized that the healer Jesus is the High Priest and it is to Him that one should go for attestation and not to the priests of the temple.
It’s to be in the presence of Jesus is more important than worried about the legalistic rituals. For a believer, the real temple and worship should be at the feet of the Lord. The real faith is the expression of the gratitude to God that results from one’s experience of the “mercies of God.” The “returning” of the Samaritan points to this truth. The expression of Gratitude expressed by the Samaritan in the face of God’s blessing demonstrates both holiness and humility.
Thanksgiving before God is the believer’s most fundamental acknowledgment of the experience of grace. The blessings we receive from God is countless and boundless and we should be ever grateful to Him in life. The healings and blessings we receive from God are not be confined to the material prosperity but on the other hand they should lead us to the awareness of God’s divine providence and should make us more humble and grateful in life. Christian life should be a living and holy sacrifice in remembrance of the mercies of God (Rom 12:1).