I have only met a handful of lepers, or at least people who had in the past suffered from leprosy. This was in the Top End of Australia where leprosy, a terrible, maiming disease, used to be quite prevalent, indeed Darwin had a leprosarium not far from the city. Leprosy was a very common disease in Jesus time as is reflected in the story of the ten lepers whom Jesus healed in Luke 17.
Of course we need to understand that while Jesus’ encounter with the lepers seems to be about their ‘physical healing’, it is primarily the spiritual dimension of this event that is important. It is also helpful to understand that the word translated in verse 19 as “made you well” also means “to save”. The implication is that this man is saved by his faith (trust) in the Jesus, who has (v14) “cleansed” him.
We would not normally say a person who has been healed has been ‘cleansed’. However if we understand that a leper was considered by the Jews to be someone who was spiritually ‘unclean’ and under God’s curse, and for this reason excluded from the worshipping community, we can see why he needed ‘cleansing’. So the man is both healed of his physical illness and spiritually cleansed. Jesus then tells him to “rise and go”, in effect he is resurrected to a new life, freed from his physical and spiritual bondage, and his relationship with God is restored. The spiritual dimension of his cleansing is from his spiritual leprosy i.e. sin.
There is however another important aspect of this story which came to my mind as my fellowship went through our annual month of ‘Thanksgiving”. This is the question of just how thankful we are to God for what we have done for us in Jesus. This one leper is the only one that seems to be truly thankful, and this thankfulness draws him back to Jesus in praise. Furthermore he is a Samaritan, someone who was a sworn enemy of the Jews and for this reason was probably particularly overwhelmed by, and seems to have a greater understanding of, just what Jesus has done for him. Whereas the other nine, who were Jews, supposedly God’s people, (we might call the ‘church’ people) just seem to have a ‘ho-hum—thanks a lot Jesus’ attitude and just go away and get on with life.
So what type of (spiritual) leper are we I wonder? Are we like the ones that just took for granted the enormity of what Jesus had done, in our case by providing for spiritual healing on the Cross? Are we those who like the nine have a rather ‘ho-hum—thanks a lot Jesus’ response but don’t have a sense of overwhelming thankfulness? The generally apathetic and lukewarm ‘faith’ of large numbers of Australians who claim to be Christians indicates that many are a lot like the ‘nine’. Or, on the other hand, are we like the Samaritan who is driven back to Jesus in overwhelming praise and thanksgiving for the enormity of the grace of God, in the realization that we have been cleansed of our sin, healed in our relationship with Him and resurrected to a new life.
The question this story raises is:
“Which type of leper are we?” The answer to that question will be in large part shown by the degree of our ‘Thanksgiving’.