Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Luke 17:11-19 Commentary

Jesus Heals Ten Men With Leprosy
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy [a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

Dig Deeper
One of the most difficult things for my generation to comprehend about recent American history is the racial segregation that went on in the United States during the time period from the late 19th century all the way into the 1960’s. This was particularly a problem in the American South but it is still stunning to me to think that the people that are just a generation older than I, and those even older than that were alive and well at a time when there were actually public places that had signs indicating that they were for whites only or that there were things like water fountains and restrooms that were clearly marked for “whites” and “coloreds.” I recently saw one of those original signs in a museum and it was just disturbing. It’s difficult to imagine living in a world that was like that. It’s even more real for many of my dear friends that grew up in South Africa who lived under racial apartheid and saw that appalling reality come to an end less than twenty years ago. It is simply sad to live in a state where some people are not welcome in certain places solely for the color of their skin or some other superficial reason.

It is, in reality, a sign of a much deeper problem within a society. Separation of the nations in a manner like that is a symptom of sin that has shattered the unity of the human race going all the way back to the division-causing sin at the tower of Babel. One of the sure signs of sin is that fracturing of the family of humanity into separate pieces that exclude and hate one another. Of course, one might argue that Israel, under God’s direction, was exactly like that, with it’s exclusion of non-Jews. In one sense that is true as a result of sin, but in the fuller sense, God never intended to have things stay like that. He always pointed Israel to a time when things would be different. He promised Abraham a family that consisted of many nations and the prophets continually pointed to an Israel that would faithful to God’s purposes and would be a light to the nations, drawing them near to God. Israel had failed to be that light, though. They had begun to think of themselves as God’s special people that were almost entitled to their status. They wouldn’t say that, of course, but that was what the actions of the nation of Israel indicated. It was this mindset that made this next incident that Luke describes in the life of Jesus so subversive and shocking.

Luke had stopped us on the journey to Jerusalem for sometime as he detailed many of Jesus’ important teachings and response to questions about his ministry, but now he clearly signals that we are back on the road with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, a trip that Jesus has clearly implied will end in his own glorifying death. As he was on his way, he took the familiar route for Jews which went around Samaria even though going through Samaria would have been a quicker trip. There are actually many details that Luke doesn’t give us in this account, and, in fact, he seems intent on keeping certain things intentionally vague. That doesn’t indicate that this was not an authentic account of something that happened in Jesus’ life, however, it seems that Luke has left things somewhat vague to give a more universal feel to the story so that he can make a larger point with this healing miracle and the response of the recipients.

As Jesus was going into a village, which we are not told whether it was a Jewish or Samaritan village, his attention was drawn to ten lepers who had, according to the law, stood at a distance so that they didn’t risk making anyone else unclean (see Lev. 13:45-46; Num. 5:2-3). Lepers were expected to isolate themselves and that is what they did. Thus, in a real sense, they represent all of those who were marginalized and isolated in the first century world. They seemed to know, although we’re not told how, that there was something special about Jesus. They called to him for pity. Apparently, they believed that he could heal them even from a distance.

One striking feature here is that Luke does not tell us any distinguishing details about these ten men until verse 16 when we find that one of them is different from the rest. In the early part of the account, however, there is one thing that is clear. They are all equal in their leprosy. Just as sin does not discriminate between people whether they be Jew, Samaritan, or something else, neither does this leprosy discriminate. They were all equal before Jesus in their need to be healed.

The text doesn’t tell us when the men were healed, Jesus simply told them to go show themselves to the priests. We don’t know if they were healed instantly or along the way to see the priests, but it does seem that this story has echoes of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings 5:1-19, where he is also told to take specific action before being healed. The reason for showing themselves to the priests was twofold. The first was that to do so would be in keeping with the law of Moses (Lev. 13:19; 14:1-11). The second was that being truly and fully healed from the skin disease of leprosy went far beyond just the clearing up of the skin condition. They needed to be made whole and be fully accepted and integrated back into the society. Only the priest could declare them ready to do that.

It seems that when they got to the priest, they were all healed. That should not surprise us. What is surprising is that only one came back to Jesus. What happened to the other nine? Luke now tells us, only at this juncture in the account, that the one who returned was a Samaritan, the implication being that the other nine were Jewish. This was of particular insult to the Jews as the Samaritans were a deeply reviled and hated group of people. What truly distinguished this man from the other nine, though, was not that he was Samaritan. If those differences didn’t matter when they all had leprosy and were in need of Jesus then it didn’t matter now. What set him apart was that he saw that he was healed and he knew who healed him.

The nine Jewish men didn’t return. We don’t know why and it really doesn’t matter. The only one who came to Jesus was a Samaritan. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet in the act of submission and acknowledgement of the authority of one greater than himself. He somehow knew that Jesus was the means through which the kingdom of God was breaking into the present age. He was, like the younger son in the parable of the lost son, dead in many ways, but Jesus had now brought him to life.

Who were those who might recognize that Jesus was God’s agent in creating his new family? The answer in this story is as shocking as it has been repeatedly throughout the Gospel of Luke. It was not the people that would have been expected. Everything about the man who returned was wrong. He was a Samaritan, and worse than that, he was a leprous Samaritan. He was a foreigner, meaning that he was from the wrong family, and would have been in the perpetual state of uncleanness that resulted from leprosy. Yet, he was the only one that saw that full restoration came through Jesus. The offer of healing and restoration was available to all who were in equal need before God (cf. Rom. 3:9), but only this outcast knew that Jesus was the way of full restoration and full reconciliation with God. He was the only one who knew that to properly praise God for his healing, he must go to Jesus. The nine Jews missed that point. They were no doubt praising God but they failed to see that the healing had come through Jesus and to praise God in true appreciation for his healing power, they must praise and worship Jesus.

It was apparently the nine who had not fully recognized the means through which they had been healed. They had failed to realize that the divine mercy had come from Jesus. He was the only one who recognized and came to honor Jesus as Lord. He was the one who came to worship God through Jesus. Thus, Luke pictures Jesus in the role that the Temple would normally play. The nine disappear, but the Samaritan, who would have never been allowed in the Temple in Jerusalem, had come to praise God at the feet of Jesus. The one who was born in the wrong family and who would have been denied access to the Temple was now the one who was behaving in the way that the true people of God should. He was coming to Jesus, the true Temple, and would find himself part of the true family of God.

In reaction to his proper response, Jesus tells him to “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.” This seems like a rather run-of-the-mill response but there may be something more to Jesus’ response that Luke wanted his readers to see. The word “anistemi,” which is translated “get up” was a word that could just mean “to stand” or “rise up,” but it was also a word that the early Christian church used quite frequently as one of their popular words to denote the resurrection of those in Christ. It is quite possible that Luke would have expected for his early Christian readers to hear tones of that in Jesus’ word. This outcast, born into the wrong family and outside of the people of God, was now being restored in every way through Jesus Christ. He was being brought into the family of God and the great hope and promise of resurrection was his, just as it can belong to anyone who recognizes Christ as the path to God.

Devotional Thought
One thing that has been pointed out over the years about the Samaritan was that he returned with a heart of gratitude for what God had done for him while the others, if nothing else, failed to show gratitude to Jesus. Do you take time to show constant gratitude towards God for all that he has done for you in your life? If you haven’t done that for awhile, take some time to do it today.

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