Healing the Ten Lepers
Why did Jesus heal these lepers and how does He heal us?
Luke 17:11-18: 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 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 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The Healing of the Ten Lepers by James Tissot (1896) Brooklyn Museum
The watercolor of James Tissot may have taken him ten years to complete. He captures the unworthiness of the lepers and the response of love and mercy by Jesus Christ who hears their cry from the road He was walking along. In 1521 on the 14th Sunday after Trinity Sunday (September) Luther uses the example of the healing of the ten lepers to emphasize how Jesus called them to faith without any conditions and with the example of the leper from Samaria to show how our faith motivates us to show the love and mercy of God in the way we live.
Luther: “These lepers here prove this clearly, who hope for the grace of Christ without the least merit. What good had they ever done to Him before? They had never seen Him, how then could they have served Him? Besides they were lepers, whom he could justly have avoided according to the law, Leviticus 13:1, and kept Himself free from them as was just and right.
For in reality and truth there was unworthiness, and reason why He should have nothing to do with them nor they with Him. For this cause they also stand far off, like those who well knew their unworthiness.
Thus faith also stands far from God, and yet it goes to meet Him and cries out, for it knows itself in the reality of truth to be unworthy of His goodness, and has nothing on which to depend, except His highly renowned and loudly praised goodness. And such a soul also seeks Christ’s favor, while it stands far off and is empty; for it cannot in the least tolerate in its company our merit and work, and comes freely like Christ into this village to the lepers, in order that its praise may be free and pure.
Observe how everything agrees perfectly that God’s love gives its favor freely, does not take nor seek anything for it, and how faith also receives quite freely and pays nothing for it, and thus the rich and the poor meet together, as the Psalms say, To this their words also testify when they say: Have mercy on us! He who seeks mercy of course neither buys nor sells anything, but seeks pure grace and mercy, as one unworthy of it, and evidently having greatly deserved the contrary.
Behold, here is a good, real, living and true example of Christian faith, that sufficiently teaches us how we must be disposed if we would find grace, piety and salvation. Now, in addition to this doctrine follows the incentive or inducement to faith, that we should gladly believe as we are at present taught to believe. This incentive, however, consists in that we observe how such faith never fails, that as it believes so it comes to pass, and that it is certainly heard and answered. For Luke describes how graciously and willingly Christ beheld and heard the lepers, and says:
“And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests.”
How very friendly and lovingly the Lord invites all hearts to Himself in this example, and stirs them to believe in Him! For there is no doubt that he desires to do for all what He here does for these lepers, if we only freely surrender ourselves to Him for all His favor and grace. Just as true faith and a Christian heart should do and delight to do; so these lepers also do and teach us to do. For how earnestly the Lord desires that we should joyfully and freely venture to build on His favor before we experience or feel it, He has here sufficiently testified that He hears them willingly, without any hesitation, that He does not first say He will do it, but as though it were already done, he did as they wished.
For He does not say: Yes, I will have mercy on you, ye shall be cleansed; but merely: “Go and show yourselves unto the priests.” As though He would say: There is no use of asking, your faith has already acquired and obtained it, before you began to ask; you were already cleansed in my sight when you began to expect such things of me; it is no longer necessary, only go and show your purity to the priests; as I consider you and as you believe, so you are and shall be. For He would not have sent them to the priests, if He had not considered them clean, and so wished to deal thus with them, as those who had become cleansed.
Now we must also examine the other part of this example of the nature of Christianity, love. The lepers have instructed us how to believe; Christ teaches us to love. Love does to our neighbor as it sees Christ has done to us, as he says in John 13:15: “For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you.” And immediately afterwards He says in verse 34: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
What else does this mean than to say: Through me in faith you now have everything that I am and have: I am your own, you are now rich and satisfied through me; for all I do and love I do and love not for my but only for your sake, and I only think how to be useful and helpful to you, and accomplish whatever you need and should have. Therefore consider this example, to do to each other as I have done to you, and only consider how to be useful to your neighbor, and do what is useful and necessary for him. Your faith has enough in my love and grace; so your love shall also give enough to others.”