Questions about the healing of the ten lepers


And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: (17.12)

What is a leper? Why did they stand "afar off"?







Leprosy was an affliction that represented uncleanness. It is a skin condition, which manifests as white patches on the skin, running sores, and the loss of parts of the body which become necrotic. A leper was disenfranchised from his community. He could not enter into the temple, and he could not even come near a Jew, much less touch one. Someone who came close to him or touched him would be considered unclean, until he fulfilled various ceremonies prescribed in the law. A leper was truly an exile among his own people.



Leprosy represented uncleanness to the Jews, but it has a much deeper spiritual meaning for us. What is it?







Leprosy is a metaphor for our sins. These lepers were "afar off", not only because they had to stay away from the Jews, because of their uncleanness, but because we cannot approach God, being full of sins. A man who has sins is certainly afar off from God.



"And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." 17.13

  1. This cry is reminiscent of which prayer that is so firm a part of Christian spirituality?
  2. Name two out of three other incidents where Jesus was addressed by a similar but not identical prayer.
  3. Why is the prayer of the 10 lepers more forceful and dogmatically correct?







The cry of the ten lepers, and that of the two blind men, the woman of Canaan, and blind Bartimaeus, which are similar, are all prototypes for the "Jesus prayer", "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner".

"And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David. {31} And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David." (Mat 20:30-31, see also Mat 9:27)

"And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. {23} But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. {24} But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. {25} Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. {26} But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs. {27} And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. {28} Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." (Mat 15:22-28)

"And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. {47} And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. {48} And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me." (Mark 10:46-48, probably also Luke 18:35-39)

The prayer of the ten Lepers differs remarkably from all these other prayers, in that it addresses Jesus as "Master" only, and not as "Lord" (except in the case of Bartimaeus) and "Son of David". The appellation "Son of David" has deep meaning, as it is an affirmation that Jesus Christ was born in the flesh, and is fully God and fully man.

"Let Marcion and Mani and the other heretics who mangle the Old Testament, hear this, and learn that the Savior is called the Son of David, for if He was not born in the flesh, how is He the Son of David?" (St Jerome)



And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 17.14)

What is odd about Jesus' command? Why did he order the lepers to go to the priests?







Jesus commanded the lepers to go to the priest before they were healed. The only reason for a leper to go to the priests was after his healing, to have his new status verified by the clergy. The priests would examine them to verify the cure, then the gift commanded by the law would be offered.

"And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, {2} This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought unto the priest: {3} And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper; {4} Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: ... etc" (Lev 14:1-4 the entire chapter describes to intricate commands prescribed for the ceremonial cleansing of a healed leper)



And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 17.14)

What lesson might we glean from the timing of Jesus' command and the leper's healing?







Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is infinitely trustworthy, and nothing He tells us to do is superfluous. We are many times afflicted with weak faith, and require quick results or a rational explanation for the demands placed upon us by the whole of the Christian life. The safest and surest way of salvation is simple obedience to the law of God, and it's full expression in the mind of the church. All of the rules and traditions we follow should be understood as the lepers understood our Lord's command to them. His command was to their great benefit, although it certainly must have seemed incomprehensible to them. They fulfilled it anyway, because of simple faith. In their case, healing was swift, in our case, it often takes much time. Our fasting, vigils, reading of morning and evening prayers, giving of alms, and all the other exercises that a part of a normal and healthy Christian life are very beneficial to us, even if we cannot see their results or understand "why" we must do them. Let us be like the ten lepers, and choose to obey our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and His sweet commands, as expressed in the way of life that is in the mind of the church.



" And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. {15} And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, {16} And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan." (Luke 17:14-16)

What does the action of the Samaritan (and Jesus' response) teach us?







The Samaritan was the only one to give thanks to God. Ingratitude is a terrible, and unfortunately, very common, sin. In this passage, we see even a "stranger" giving thanks to God, and we should at least reconsider our ingratitude and be ashamed.



Why did Jesus call the Samaritan a "stranger"?







Samaritans were despised by the Jews, and were considered to be a heretical sect, "strangers", as it were. The simplest description of the Samaritans is that they were people who followed some of the divinely revealed Jewish religion, and added to it various kinds of false teachings. They were considered to be an unclean people by the Jews, partly because of the history between the Jews and Samaritans, and partly because the Samaritans were not pure in the faith.



There is a deeper meaning behind the unwillingness to thank Jesus of the nine Jewish lepers and the thanksgiving given by the Samaritan? What is it?







The Samaritan was the only one to give thanks. He represents the Gentiles, and points to their integration into the church, which was at hand. The other nine, on the other hand, were Jews, and indicate the terrible ingratitude of the bulk of the Jewish people, who shortly would be incited to demand Jesus' crucifixion. (See Blessed Theophylact, commentary on St Luke 17:11-19)



The healing of 9 Jews and a Samaritan together also has another spiritual meaning, regarding the nature and purpose of the incarnation. Which?







The healing of two widely separated factions represents the healing of the entire human race.

"The ten lepers represent all of human nature, and that nature was leprous with wickedness, carrying with it the ugliness of sin, passing its life outside the heavenly city on account of it's uncleanness, and standing afar off from God"" (Blessed Theophylact)



Describe another healing of leprosy which followed an incomprehensible command by the Holy prophet Elisha.







The soldier Naaman was afflicted with leprosy, and approached the prophet Elisha for healing. He knew of the renown of Elisha and expected some great miracle, of great task the holy prophet would assign to him, and he was only told to go to the river Jordan, and wash himself seven times. This angered Naaman, and he was not going to fulfill the command, but one of his servants convinced him otherwise, and he fulfilled the task, and was cleansed.

"Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper. {2} And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife. {3} And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy. {4} And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel. {5} And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment. {6} And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. {7} And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me. {8} And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. {9} So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. {10} And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. {11} But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. {12} Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. {13} And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? {14} Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." (2 Ki 5:1-14)


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