When Jesus was traveling along the border of Samaria and Galilee, He went into one of the villages. On His way in, ten lepers met him. It wasn’t uncommon for such groups to station themselves outside of towns and villages so they could petition passersby for help. They were somehow aware of who Jesus was and shouted at Him from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”
They were indeed a pitiable group. They had suffered and endured more than most people could imagine. They were ragged people who lived a shadowy existence away from the general population—social outcasts finding what companionship and comfort they could among themselves.
But when they saw Jesus, everything changed.
Christ told them to go show themselves to the priests—the people who could declare them clean or unclean (Leviticus 14). Since the lepers already knew they were unclean, they understood Jesus telling them to do this meant they would be healed. They are to be commended for acting on Jesus’ promise and going to see the priests.
And as they did that, something amazing happened—they were all “cleansed” of their leprosy (v. 14)! It’s hard for us to imagine all this must have meant to them. They were cured, clean, and could now return to their families and loved ones! They had quickly gone from despair to hope to life. One man, a Samaritan, was so overwhelmed that he turned around and headed back to where the group had left Jesus—praising God all the way. When he saw Christ, he threw himself at His feet and thanked Him.
Christ was touched by the man’s gratitude but troubled that he was the only one who had returned to give thanks. The other nine (presumably Jewish and God’s covenant people), hadn’t bothered. You could make the point that they were on their way to see the priests as Jesus had told them, but it would be lame. After all, Jesus thought they should have returned and they could have easily done so, thanked Jesus, and then gone on to see the priests.
But there’s one more thing Luke wants us to see. Jesus told the Samaritan his faith (that’s how Jesus characterized the Samaritan’s gratitude), had made him “well” or “whole” (v. 19). Earlier, we had been told he was “cleansed,” but now he is told something else—something more. The word translated “well/whole” is sesoken and it can be understood in either a physical or spiritual sense. Since he’s already been cleansed of his leprosy, it would seem that Jesus is saying something about his spiritual state. (See Luke 7:50 for a similar use of sesoken).
The story closes then with nine men being cleansed, but one man being cleansed and made whole. Were the nine lepers more concerned about being cleansed than being made whole? After the nine were made cleansed, they were content to go see the priests and get back to their lives. Is it possible that in our relationship with the Lord we’re concerned more about being cleansed than made whole so we can get back to our lives?
The Samaritan had to go back and thank Jesus and wholeness was the result. The message is clear: grateful hearts make us whole!