#71: Ten Lepers

Luke 17:11-19

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

They were the uncurables. With a disease so contagious that they had to be separated from everyone else. Living, or existing, outside their home towns and villages with an illness eating away at their outer body parts. They were seen as the living dead. They were the lepers.

Leprosy still exists, but not in the way it did in Jesus’ days, and not in my town. Despite this I have met plenty of modern-day lepers. Here are ten of them:

  • A father hated by his children.
  • A paedophile rejected by everybody.
  • An unfaithful wife rejected by her husband.
  • A heavy smoker living with lung cancer.
  • An alcoholic drinking more every day not less.
  • A drug addict who stole every day from his family.
  • A loving and much-loved man slipping into dementia.
  • A young man fading away from AIDS, having already lost the love of his life.
  • A middle-aged angry white man full of racism and bad language.
  • A lonely woman, living alone, and who smells badly.

It is a list of the people we don’t want to be, of the ones we don’t want our children to become. They are the people we avoid, and who everyone else avoids too. We don’t want them living next door, marrying into our family. We don’t even want them in our church even though we realise how much they need to be in a church somewhere.

In the story the ten lepers, it reminds me of the children’s song ‘Ten Green Bottles’ – and if one green bottle should accidentally fall. These lepers are going to fall one by one until eventually there will be no green bottles. In a last desperate appeal they call out to Jesus. Perhaps because he is on his way to his own anticipated death in Jerusalem, he is particularly aware of them. Or perhaps it is just the ordinary, everyday, reaching out to the outcast, love of Jesus.

All ten lepers are healed, only one comes back to say thank you. Where are the others? What are they thinking? Do they ever say thank you for anything? Do they ever stop and think about the goodness of God? Or the close cleansing presence of Jesus? I am one of these naturally me-centred people to whom saying thank you does not come easily. I have had to learn how to realise, stop, turn back and say ‘thank you’. What I have learned is that to be thankful is not just a respectful, courteous and right thing to do. It is actually the very best, the juiciest thing, the thing that makes me feel good.

Time for another song:

Thank you for free and full salvation,
Thank you for grace to hold it fast.
Thank you, O Lord I want to thank you,
That I’m free to thank!
Thank you, O Lord I want to thank you,
That I’m free to thank.

Lord Jesus,
Thank you for your healing touch.
For your touch on my body,
In my mind,
And deep into my soul.
May you continue to reach out and touch me,
And may I continue to say Thank You.