Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” (Luke 17: 17-19)
In today’s gospel reading Jesus descends from Capernaum toward Jerusalem traveling south through Galilee and Samaria. Jesus is called upon from a distance by ten people with leprosy asking Him to pity them. Jesus does not call back saying to them that they will be healed; He says only “Go show yourselves to the priests”. Mosaic Law required that those with a lesion should go and show their ailment to the Levite priest. Depending on the specific condition of the skin, the priest declared the person “clean” or “unclean”. If sanctioned “unclean”, the person was separated from the encampment (Lv 13: 1-4).
What we don’t know about the ten lepers that encountered Jesus is if they ever fulfilled their initial duty to report to the priest. It appears that most of these lepers were Jewish since Jesus commands them to present themselves. It also seems that they never fulfilled their original duty to the law because they began immediately on their way to find the priests (Lk 17:14). The men with leprosy may have thought that Jesus caught them in the dereliction of their duty to fulfill the law and that in order for Jesus to heal them He was requiring them to fulfil the discipline of the law for lesions. Yet, they were healed on their way.
According to the Mosaic Law even if an Israelite was healed of his lesion, he still could not enter the encampment until an examination by the priest cleared him. So it may be that what the lepers thought would be their first visit to the priest was in fact to Our Lord’s mind their final visit for approval. Yet, since the lepers were healed on the way, they may not have even gone to the priest; they may have dispersed in celebratory joy. Interestingly, the Samaritan who was healed may not even have known how to follow the command of Jesus to go to the priest since as a Samaritan he was already isolated from the Jewish faith. However, when he was healed he knew exactly where to go: back to Jesus to thank God for his full recovery.
To give vision to this event we have placed on our bulletin cover for this 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time a watercolor work by James Tissot entitled The Healing of Ten Lepers (1894). This work is part of an extensive series entitled “The Life of Christ”.
Here can be seen the men with leprosy calling out to Jesus during his travel toward Jerusalem. Some of the men show the debilitation of their illness, all are bandaged; all are in postures of humility which betoken souls which have been completed brought low and are on the edge of utter despair and hopelessness. We should not mistake their poses for that of praise. Their bearing is of great lamentation.
They must have lamented on their way to the priests, but only for a short time; for when they were healed they were surely amazed. Yet, only one returned to offer thanks. He surpassed all duty to the “law” and was freed by faith!
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services