The biblical passage: Luke 17, 11-19
There was a rich man, who was clothed iTimes New Romann purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.
Before we take a closer look at the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ meeting with the ten people suffering from leprosy, which took place somewhere close to the border between Samaria and Galilee, when He was on His way to Jerusalem, let us devote a few moments to the contagious illness of leprosy. In the past lepers lived in isolation, far from healthy people. They were treated as “unclean,” and had to lead their lives in communities with other lepers. Left to themselves, apart from physical suffering, they had to bear also the sense of exclusion, of separation from their families. They felt inferior and totally useless. Who knows, Jesus might have truly surprised the lepers, when without posing any initial conditions, he cured all those who cried: “Jesus, Master! Have mercy on us.” These words are followed by the other equally surprising words, for when He saw them He told them: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. If we knew little about Jesus, we might think that He was a doctor with a diploma, who had just sent His patients to specialists for more detailed medical checkup. In fact, Jesus referred to the regulations of the Israelite Law. In the Third Book of Moses chapters 13 and 14 are devoted to leprosy. It was the role of Old-Testament priests to give verdicts about illness or recovery. From our biblical passage it follows that the ten lepers on the advice of Jesus without delay went to Jerusalem, to get as soon as possible a confirmation of their recovery from the priests. This is not stated in the Bible, but we can assume that they heard the good news from the priests: you are in good health, you can go home, to your families, to your prior occupations and enjoy life!
We can try to imagine what the healed lepers must have felt: only a few hours earlier they had been thought unclean, thrown almost out of society, far from their families, with no future, and then, all of a sudden, their life was given back to them! Life with all its potential and promises – for of the bad sidens of life they had already taken their fill. They must have experienced extremely positive emotions, which normally remain far beyond our reach. We can assume that after the extraordinary recovery, they must have undergone great transformation, which positively marked their further lives. Above all, I should think, they must have felt unspeakable joy of life with which they infected everybody around.
Only this state of emotional confusion can account for the sad fact that out of miraculously healed people only one person came back to Jesus to say “thank you”: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on [his] face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where [are] the nine?” From the point of view of Luke, people are called to praise God. One can see it already at the very beginning of the third Gospel, when Luke speaks of shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem (cf. Luke 2, 20), as well as in its conclusion, when Jesus’ disciples give glory to God (cf. Luke 24, 53). We do not know why the nine cleansed people did not go back to thank Jesus for their recovery. Of course that did not affect Jesus’ attitude: He did not take their health back again. Yet from our text it follows that the experience of illness and recovery did not teach them anything. Their example should not be followed. The honour of the healed people was saved by one man only. Only one out of ten people remembered whom he owed his health! He evidently must have thought that he would still be terminally ill, if he had not come across Jesus, who turned out to be more powerful than the illness (leprosy). What is more, this Jesus gave the healed man back his sense of life!
Also surprising in our biblical text is that Jesus did not tell the man: “Healing you, I have helped you.” No, Jesus told him: “Arise, depart: thy faith hath made thee whole.” Your faith saved you, making you sensitive, grateful and 100% physically and spiritually fit. The act of healing people out of leprosy might also be read as an act of liberation, which gave back the ten people from our story freedom. Each of them most probably made some use of this newly-received freedom. However, as we have heard, only one of them chose the way of faith. One could say that he was doubly cured: both physically and spiritually.
To make it all the more interesting, the man was a Samaritan, that is a man belonging to the group excluded by the Israelites from religious and political community. And yet it was the Samaritan who decided that since he had met Jesus as a man both ill and excluded from the community, he should, being healthy now, give all the more praise and glory to the Saviour and God’s Son. It might be that our today’s story of the cure is the only story showing man, who goes back to Christ to thank God for his cure! Gratitude was, is, and probably will continue to be the litmus test of our faith and its quality. Our biblical text raises the continually valid question whether I am grateful to God who in Jesus Christ made use of the best measures to save us? Whether we are able to “praise God with a loud voice” for our health, for our recovery? Let us bear this in our minds that there is no faith without gratitude which makes our life truly rich. Amen.
Rev. Dr Dariusz Chwastek, translated by Dr Joanna Teske