Of the six miracles unique to the Gospel of Luke, the healing of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19 is significant, offering a lesson about thankfulness as well as being illustrative of Israel’s hardheartedness and blindness regarding their Messiah.
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, and passing through Samaria, He came to a village. Outside the village were ten leprous men, “who stood afar off.” According to the Law, lepers were to live outside city limits. Leviticus 13:46 states, “He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” They recognized Jesus and called to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus saw them, and simply said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” (Leviticus 14 gives the details of the procedures and sacrifices concerning the cleansing of lepers required in the Law). As they went to literally carry out what Jesus told them to do, they were completely cleansed of their leprosy.
Only one of the men, when he saw that he was healed, turned around and came back to Jesus. With a loud voice he praised God, and fell down on his face, prostrated at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. This man was a Samaritan, implying that all the others were Israelites. Jesus then used this opportunity to teach His disciples. “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” Jesus asked these rhetorical questions, as He often did, to stimulate thinking, especially in the men He was training. He was pointing out that nine of God’s chosen people essentially took God’s blessing smugly, as if they deserved it, and didn’t even say, “Thank you.” But one Samaritan, considered a half-Jew and despised by the Israelites, received the blessing with great humility and heart-felt gratitude. He left the others and came back to Jesus to offer his thanks and praise to God.
Jesus said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” In the King James, it says “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” The word whole in the Greek is sozo, the word translated “save” and “saved” as in Romans 10:9: “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” In the context of the healing of the ten lepers, the Samaritan’s thankfulness brought him a wholeness that the other nine did not receive. The Message offers this rendering: “Your faith has healed and saved you.”
This unappreciative snubbing of the nine men was also symbolic of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, the true King and Lord, Jesus Christ. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He did His utmost to reach out to His own, Israel, “and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11) The Samaritan, detested and rejected by Israelites, and, in this case, also a leper, a reject of the rejects, graciously and thankfully responded to the Lord’s goodness. “Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” The answer was “no.” Just like the one that returned, it is often the rejected of society who most willingly accept God’s free gift of salvation, who know they are undeserving, but who bravely leave the ungrateful and humbly come to the Master.