9 October 2016

Luke 17:11-19

“When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were made clean.” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 111


The structure of a central part of Luke's Gospel (from the end of chapter 9 to the middle of chapter 19) is dictated by Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. Luke tells us that Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). The first event on the journey narrative is a rejection: Jesus attempts to enter a Samaritan village and is turned away (Luke 9:52-56). We are reminded of that episode here. Luke reiterates that Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem. He is in the borderland between Galilee and Samaria (presumably skirting around Samaritan territory) and is entering a village when he encounters a group of ten lepers.

The lepers would have lived outside the village. Leprosy was a feared condition in the ancient world. The book of Leviticus details comprehensive regulations for the exclusion of lepers, the examination of those who claim to have recovered and the offering of sacrifice. Only a priest could pronounce a leper was fit to rejoin the community (Leviticus chapters 13 and 14). Here these regulations are observed: the lepers keep their distance and have to shout to attract Jesus' attention; Jesus refers them to the priest for examination and it is on their way there, apparently without any other action on their part or his, that they discover themselves to be healed.

One of the (cured) lepers then transgresses the convention. He runs back to Jesus, "falls at Jesus' feet" (which implies some physical proximity) and expresses his thanks. Luke, a master storyteller, delays revealing a significant detail about this individual: "he was a Samaritan" (v. 16). Jesus' comments then imply that the Samaritan is the only one who has responded as he had expected to the miracle that has benefitted them all. His final remark to the Samaritan is ambiguous. Does Jesus say 'Your faith has healed you' meaning that it was faith that caused his cure from leprosy or 'Your faith has saved you' meaning that his gratitude is a sign of an inner attitude which has opened him to a richer blessing than the other nine received?

To Ponder

  • It appears that the lepers set out to see the priest before realising that they have been cured. Can you think of a time when you have acted in the belief that something had occurred even before you had the evidence to support that belief? What happened?
  • Lepers suffered from the stigma of their disease and were seen a people who should not enjoy the company of others. Remembering that today is Prisons Sunday, consider who the 'lepers' are in our society.
  • The story suggests two ways to offer thanks to God - the formal obedience to the law and the spontaneous voicing of praise. Which has been apparent to you in your worship, especially if you have been to church today? How and why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..