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God’s Word for You

Luke 17:12-14 ten lepers

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, November 13, 2018

12 As he entered one village, ten men with leprosy came to meet him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out loudly, “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!”

The ten men were not in the village, since lepers could not enter a city unless it was to show themselves to the priests to show that they were healed. The Old Testament law was very clear about sara‘at or skin disease. It might be leprosy, or it might not be. To be certain, the afflicted person was put under quarantine, which meant he had to go off by himself and not be in contact with anyone except the examining priest. Leviticus 13:1-8 presents a whole list of procedures and possibilities, but finally “if the rash has spread in the skin, he shall pronounce him unclean” (Leviticus 13:8). One fictionalized first-hand account describes a family member’s fear:

    “It’s sara‘at, isn’t it, mama?” I asked. Without any warning I felt differently. I was panicking. I heard myself talking fast, and my voice kept getting higher. “Mama, if it’s sara‘at, Papa won’t be able to buy and sell. He might need to move away from us. He won’t be able to take sacrifices anymore. We won’t be able to do anything…” My mind was flooded with the consequences that fell one by one like raindrops, each one changing my point of view of the whole world. “We’ll have to leave the community—we’ll have to leave Canaan, won’t we?”
    Papa reached out his hand to me, and I regretted what happened next, but I couldn’t help myself. I stepped away, horrified by my father’s loving hand. There was no change in his hand; nothing different about his fingers. But the sound of my foot scraping on the dust outside our tent seemed to echo in my hearing. It was the sound of my fear; the sound of a wall between Papa and me that I could never pull down. I was sorry, but I felt at once like I would do it again if he tried to touch me. I looked into his eyes, and he hadn’t changed at all. He was even smiling at me, forgiving me for being afraid. I wanted to run to his arms and hug him, but I was terrified of becoming unclean, of being outcast. I burst into tears and ran into the tent, throwing myself onto my bedroll. Mama must have started to follow me, but I heard Papa say, “No, leave him alone. He’s right to cry, and he’s right to be afraid. He has done what he should have done, even though it gives him pain.”
    They were quiet for a while. I thought I could hear them whispering, but I wasn’t sure. I wondered if they were thinking of selling me. I could get a pretty good price as a boy slave, and if they sold me to a good master, I would not have too bad a life. The thought madebe stand up and stop crying. It was time to do what I could. I didn’t want to be sold, but I loved Mama and Papa. I would do what they said.
    I stepped out of the tent, ready to offer myself to be sold into slavery. Papa would have to go away with the lepers. Mama would have nothing at all—she might have to live as a servant in her brother’s tent. But they could sell me and my brother and sister, and she could live with dignity. I was ready. I was willing.
    I blinked in the light of the setting sun, but all of my brave thoughts never became brave words. Mama and Papa weren’t there. They had already gone to the priest. (Leviticus 13:11, The Panic of Leprosy).

These lepers lived on the borderland between Samaria and Israel, but as far as the ceremonial law went, they were outsiders; outside. They might have their faith, but they could not participate in the sacrifices or the Temple worship. They could not fully obey the law, constricted by the law of the lepers. Unable to bring any offerings or to hear the High Priest’s absolution on the Day of Atonement, they were left without comfort, without the certainty of forgiveness.

Then, a miracle! Jesus, a man they had heard about, was coming. Whether most of these lepers were Samaritans or Jews (we have no way of knowing), they had been told about Jesus. How much did they know? At least this much, that he was a healer, and through him there was a chance that some or all of them might be cured.

“Master!” they called. This is Epistata (ἐπιστάτα), a word that can mean just about any kind of leader, from a king to a foreman (1 Kings 5:30). It means someone “in the know,” and Luke uses this word quite a bit when people addressed Jesus (Luke 5:5, 8:24, 8:45, 9:33, 9:49 and 17:13).

The lepers were willing to do whatever task Jesus set them to do. Maybe they were thinking of the leper in the days of Elisha the prophet, the Syrian soldier who was commanded to go and bathe in the Jorden seven times (2 Kings 5:10).

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going away, they were cleansed.

Incredibly, Jesus did not command them to do anything at all. He just told them to obey the Law of Moses, which said that they had to present themselves to a priest. Jesus says, “priests,” because first they might go to one of the Levitical towns in Judea before being sent to the Temple in Jerusalem. Any priest of Israel (“Aaron the priest or one of his sons who is a priest,” Leviticus 13:2) could examine a man to declare him cleansed of leprosy.

Jesus said the words, and the thing was done. Here the Lord shows his omnipotent power over all things. His power is in his word, and his word is powerful. This is the same word spoken to you by Jesus: the forgiveness of your sins in his name (Luke 24:47). You will rise from the dead on the Last Day, and you will be carried to the place prepared for you by Jesus himself. Just as surely as the ten lepers were healed of their leprosy, you have been healed of your sins. You are at peace with God. You have Jesus’ word on it.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



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