Jesus makes ten lepers clean. 17:11-19


The story of the healing of the ten lepers illustrates the one law that we must obey, namely, that we believe in Jesus. In the story we learn of an irreligious outcast who responds in faith to Jesus, a faith that saves him.

The passage

v11. The healing took place on "the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee", NEB. Luke has retained the geographical notes that went with this story while continuing with his overall theme of Jesus journeying to Jerusalem.

v12-13. As Jesus is heading toward a village, he is spied by "ten men suffering from a virulent skin-disease", NJB, probably leprosy. The men are obviously gathered well away from the village. When they see Jesus they begin to shout out to him for mercy, for healing. They see in Jesus their only hope, and on him they rest - they put their faith in Jesus.

v14. Jesus tells them to have their condition inspected by the priests. This is proper practice, for they cannot return to their community and participate in its religious and cultural life unless they are declared free of their skin disease. Jesus actually tells them to go before they are healed, but as they head off, they are "cleansed". The command to "go" may be a test of faith, but is most likely just a practical directive since they have already acted in faith by asking Jesus to heal them.

v15-16. Out of the ten, the Samaritan, the hated outcast, is the only one to return to Jesus and worship him. The point is not that faith without thanksgiving is powerless to save. This would make thanksgiving a necessary work for salvation. Nor is the point of the story that we should always be thankful when confronted by God's grace. Of course, we should always be thankful to God, but this is not the point of the story. The Samaritan's response simply illustrates a saving faith, a faith that rests wholly on Jesus for salvation. Faith in Jesus, for God's eternal acceptance, is the one and only necessary act of obedience for a child of God. The Pharisees argued that law-obedience is the way God's children progress their standing with God, but in this little story a "foreigner" reminds us that God makes only one demand of us, faith in Jesus.

v17-19. Jesus observes that the only one to return to him and give God thanks and praise is a "foreigner", an outcast of Israel. In v19, many Bible translations have "your faith has made you well", but "your faith has saved you" carries the sense better.

The focus of faith

I remember taking a school Bible lesson on this passage. The prepared lesson took a standard moralizing line - we must be thankful for the blessings God gives us. If we want to be Jesus' friend we must be willing to come to him with a thankful heart. I wonder if a demand to be thankful could imply that salvation depends on thankfulness. Could a child make this link? In the end, the weight of this type of moral demand must inevitably condemn, even condemn the simple heart of a child. I fear such moralizing has led many a "little one" astray.

Be thankful! We should be thankful to God, for we have much to be thankful about, but linking thankfulness with a saving faith is dangerous, to say the least. By doing this we imply that faith, by itself, is not enough to save.

The thanks and praise of the Samaritan was a natural response to the free and undeserved mercy of God which was his in Christ, a mercy just for the asking. The Samaritan didn't earn the kindness of God; he just asked for it and it was freely given. He knew he couldn't earn it, since he was an outcast, a Samaritan. So, having accepted God's grace, thanks and praise was his natural response.

Yet, the thankfulness of the Samaritan is not the point of the story. The point of the story lies in the return of the Samaritan to Jesus, yes, a return to give thanks, but in particular, a return to Jesus. The story teaches a simple truth, faith saves us, or as Jesus said to the Samaritan, "your faith has saved you", but what type of faith? What type of faith can say to a mulberry tree, "be uprooted and planted in the sea" and it would obey us? Yes, a mustard seed faith, full of doubts, questions, hesitation, but still, what type of faith? Is it a thankful faith? No, not at all! The story of the thankful Samaritan makes the point that a saving faith is a faith in Jesus. How simple is that?

The living God offers us the gift of eternity. This gift is ours for the asking. All we have to do is ask Jesus, trust Jesus for salvation.


1. Why did Jesus say "go"?

2. What is the point of only the Samaritan returning to give thanks?

3. Define the "faith" Jesus says the Samaritan has.

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