The Ten Lepers in Luke 17

While most of us will plead our case, this wise man gives thanks as his first, not last, priority.

Here is Luke 17:11-19‘s  account of the healing of the leper.  This account has no parallel in any other Gospel, though the synoptic Gospels do contain a separate account of the healing of a single leper.

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

We have here in the third gospel a very Johannine story in Lucan form.  Never mind that Luke wrote his gospel first, and never mind that there is no account of Jesus healing a leper in John.  I call this passage Johannine because the rhetorical teaching tool is an actual miracle account, rather than a parable.  It is simply an event about the life of Jesus that Luke found notable enough to record in his gospel.

And what is note-worthy about Luke 17?  First, Christ heals ten lepers.  The lepers encounter Christ outside the village because Levitic law, which deemed leprosy unclean and/or highly contagious, prohibited them from residing in a town.  The healing is also implicit, since Jesus neither prays over them nor performs any other ritual.  He simply says “present yourselves before the priests.”  Luke’s purpose is not demonstrate how Jesus performed the miracle. We accept at face value that the lepers were healed at the mere command or will of Jesus.

Nor does Luke present Jesus as intending to  reveal to a crowd, nor to an eye witness, his divinity by his healing. He performs a miraculous and charitable work rather anonymously, and then only to have nine of the ten men he cured fail to thank him.

There is further irony in that the only leper to thank him is not even a Temple-worshiping Jew. He is a Samaritan – a Semite from northern Israel who would normally not make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Jewish passover.

This passage is about a faith encounter between the Son of God and a man healed as a result of his faith in Jesus.  Catholics like to point out that the leper’s decision to fall “at the feet of Jesus” is our earliest example of the adoration of God-become-man.  It is a textual example of man’s duty to give thanks to God, and Luke demonstrates that it is not wrong to express this gratitude directly to Jesus, even if it means we ought to “fall at his feet.”

Finally, the leper in this story is by no means the exception to the rule.  The leper is, in reality, any person who stands before God in a state of sin.  Just as Jesus healed the leper, and just as the leper thanked Jesus… Christ too can forgive our sins, and we owe him profound thanks for his salvific work.

Would that we were all as sure and humble to show our gratitude to God as the leper.


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