Some stories about Jesus perplex me, like this one where Jesus asks a question that in a sense makes no sense.
Luke tells of a healing, and an impressive one at that. Jesus healed ten people at once, transforming them from pariah status and restoring all of them to their communities with the simplest of commands.
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.” (Luke 17:11-19.)
Why did they stand at a distance? The law required them to keep their distance from people not infected with skin diseases.
Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46.)
The fact they called out to Jesus – loudly asking for his pity rather than warning him off with cries of “Unclean! Unclean!” – showed they expected him to be able to do something. They might not have expected his chosen response, though. He didn’t touch them as he did another person with skin disease (Matthew 8:1-4); he didn’t pronounce forgiveness of sins as he healed (Mark 2:1-12); he didn’t proclaim the power of God in the healing. (Matthew 9:1-7.)
He just told them to go to the priests for inspection.
This too was in keeping with the law. A healed person would be pronounced clean and able to rejoin society. (Leviticus 13:12-17.) But they were not yet healed when he told them to go. He just told them to go. In their faith they did, not knowing what would happen but trusting Jesus and doing what he said. The story said they were healed on the way.
Next comes the familiar part of this story for most people who have heard sermons and Sunday school lessons on the passage. The Samaritan returns to thank Jesus while the others don’t, which on first read is a surprising turn. Jesus’ companions must have been flabbergasted, “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” (John 4:9.) Suffice to say that Samaritans and Jews had (among other differences) conflicting views of proper worship that kept them from one another.
That’s not the surprising twist for me, though. It’s what Jesus says to the man.
“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.”
Interesting questions, mostly because of the further questions they raise in my mind..
First, the story says they were all healed. If the Samaritan man’s healing was by faith, how were the others healed? The suggestion in the opening of the story is that they all called out to Jesus in an expression of trust and reliance on him. That sounds like an expression of faith for all of them.
Second, in asking where the others are I would expect the answer to be that they were doing as Jesus commanded: they were on the way to present themselves to the priests. They needed a priestly pronouncement of being found clean in order to then be allowed to reenter the village and return to their homes, families, and friends.
Third, the reason the Samaritan man stood alone is because he left the group and turned back. Why would he not obey Jesus in presenting himself to the priests? Because he was a Samaritan and did not fall under the priests’ jurisdiction. Considering the antipathy Jews had for Samaritans, it’s likely the priest might not have even given him a once-over let alone pronounced him clean. After all, Samaritans were unclean in their eyes even if not infected by a skin disease.
Luke never tells us the rest of the story for the other nine. Did the priests ever declare them clean? Did they perhaps offer sacrifices of thanksgiving in the Temple in Jerusalem? These are possible, and these are also prohibited to the Samaritan.
Don’t take me wrong. This is not a criticism. It is me being perplexed. There is something going on that I don’t understand. I don’t understand what the deal is concerning the other nine.
I do understand that the Samaritan man’s faith is a model for people then and now, as is his gratitude for God’s grace and mercy. I get why Luke put this in his gospel of Jesus’ life. I just want to ask him some day what the deal is with the faith and healing of the other nine.
Then again, I have a lot of questions when I read the Bible. It’s a great book for making me think.