A Biblical story found in Luke 17:11-19 tells of ten men with leprosy, whom Jesus encountered on his way to Jerusalem from the District of Galilee where he had spent most of his life and ministry.
Jesus was entering an unnamed village on the border with Samaria, when the ten called out from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us” (NIV v 13). Aware no doubt of His concern for the sick, and reputation as a healer, they were probably motivated more by self-pity than a desire to learn of his novel teachings.
Jesus did nothing, but told them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (NIV v 14). It would have been the priests who diagnosed their disease, and required their isolation under Levitical law, to prevent spread to others. Likewise, it was necessary for their improvement to be verified by the priests before they could be considered well enough to return to society. Luke states that as they obeyed His directive, they were ‘cleansed’.
All were healed but only one of them, then thought to go back to Jesus, declare his profound gratitude and praise God. Significantly, he was a Samaritan, an outsider, and one to be looked down upon!
The Samaritans were a mixed-race people, descendants from Israelites in the district between Judea in the south, and Galilee in the north, who had inter-bred with Assyrian invaders after the era of Solomon. Ten of the tribes of Israel had broken away and elected their own leaders who ruled them from the city of Samaria. The Samaritans were seen as having departed from the God of the Israelites and His worship at the magnificent temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. They no longer belonged to the true faith.
But Jesus, by asking where were the other nine who had been healed, was promoting a different kind of religious orthodoxy. No doubt the other nine were also appreciative of being rid of their malady, but they took this miraculous blessing for granted, and in doing so overlooked God’s ability to, in addition, impart a whole new way of life. Jesus commended the sole leper who returned to express heart-felt gratitude, by saying: “Rise and go; your faith has made you well” – NIV v. 19
In this regard, it is relevant what Mark 3:31-35 records Jesus as saying when interrupted while teaching. He had been told that members of his own family were outside, looking for Him.
Jesus took this opportunity to make an important point, by declaring His priority. Of greater importance to Him than seeing His family then, was His wish to continue what He was telling His listeners while He had their undivided attention. Turning to them, He said in v. 34 and 35 (NIV), “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother”.
Jesus is in essence saying: those to whom I am most closely attached, are not those of any particular church or creed, but those who are willing to listen to God and heed His teachings.
Popstar, my nom de plume, has an affinity for this story after performing numerous reconstructive operations on patients with leprosy over a period of five years, firstly in India, subsequently in Papua-New Guinea, and for a few months in the West African nation of Sierra Leone.
He would like to point out that descriptions of the leprosy of Biblical times found in Leviticus 13 and 14 suggest that it was a generic name for a group of infectious diseases affecting the skin, and not identical with what the medical profession prefers to call Hansen’s Disease today. There could have been outbreaks of several contagious medical conditions threatening the health and well-being of the thousands of itinerant Israelites in their trek to the promised land.
They had no effective means of treatment. They could only control its spread by isolating sufferers from others until the priests deemed that the risk had passed. Hansen’s Disease as we know it today, whilst not highly contagious, is a chronic infection spread from person to person. It is caused by an organism similar to that which causes Tuberculosis.
Hansen’s Disease patients, unlike many of the patients with biblical leprosy, do not recover in a limited time frame. Unfortunately, the isolation imposed on patients with biblical leprosy created a lasting stigma for patients with Hansen’s Disease today. They have been segregated in leprosy colonies for treatment indefinitely, away from family and friends, and their normal environment.
Today, after several decades of effective multi-drug therapy, their lot is much improved. It is no longer the threat it was, but new pestilences causing disastrous epidemics and pandemics, have arisen.
Are we as appreciative as we should be for the miracles of life, and the remedies available to us through advances in medical science?