11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”– Luke 17:11-19 ESV
At this point in his narrative, Luke reminds the reader that, despite all the recent delays and seeming distractions, Jesus remained committed to going to Jerusalem. Up to this moment, Jesus had been in Judea, slowly making His way to His final destination. But Luke reports that, for some undisclosed reason, Jesus decided to take a detour, passing back through Samaria and all the way to its northern border with Galilee.
Luke’s placement of this real-life story at this point in his gospel account is intentional because it provides a direct link to a couple of Jesus’ parables recorded back in chapter 15. One involved a shepherd who searched for a missing sheep, while the other described a woman who diligently searched for a single lost coin. Jesus told both of these parables in order to expose the hardened and uncaring hearts of the Pharisees. These men, who were supposed to be the spiritual shepherds of Israel, showed no compassion or concern for those whom they deemed to be sinners. The members of the Pharisees, Sadduccees, and other religious sects of Israel had become an exclusive society of spiritual elitists who looked down their noses at the poor, uneducated, and less fortunate. They had even deemed Jesus and his raggamuffin band of Galilean disciples to be little more than country bumpkins who attracted a motley blend of societal rejects, moral reprobates, and religious rejects. But Jesus took every opportunity to expose these men as hypocrites whose attitudes and actions stood opposed to the divine purposes of God.
In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus told of a shepherd who, while leading his flock of 100 sheep through the wilderness, discovered that one had gone missing. It had somehow wandered away from the fold. At this point in the parable, Jesus posed the question: “Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4 NLT). To those living in an agrarian society, the answer to this question was obvious. The shepherd would risk everything to find that one lost sheep. But notice that Jesus describes the shepherd as leaving “the ninety-nine others in the wilderness” in order to find the one missing sheep. In this parable, the 99 sheep are meant to represent the Pharisees. They believed themselves to be the select sheep of Yahweh’s flock. They were pristine, pure, and spiritually healthy. But in the story, the shepherd leaves those sheep in the wilderness and turns his sole attention on the one missing sheep. And when he finds it, he returns and announces his discovery with great fanfare and joy. But Jesus discloses the real point of His story.
“I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.” – Luke 15:7 NET
This statement was meant as an unflattering slam of the Pharisees. They wrongly believed themselves to be righteous and in no need of repentance. In their minds, they were already right with God and had no need of a Savior. But Jesus exposes their faulty self-assessment. In the long run, it was they who were really lost, wandering in the wilderness of their prideful self-righteousness.
The second parable Jesus told involved a woman who discovered that one of her ten Greek coins was missing. Like the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep, this woman instigated a desperate search of her home in an attempt to find that one missing coin. Its recovery was important to her. And Jesus indicated that her diligent search resulted in a positive outcome, causing her to declare her joy to her neighbors and friends. Then Jesus reveals that point of His story.
“In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” – Luke 15:10 NLT
The woman turned her attention away from the nine “non-lost” coins in order to discover the whereabouts of the one that was missing. What’s fascinating about this story is that Jesus seems to describe the lost coin as the sinner who repents of his sins and returns to its rightful place. But it was the woman who sought out the coin, not the other way around. Once again, Jesus was attempting to expose the uncaring nature of the Pharisees. They failed to share God’s love for sinners because they refused to admit that they were sinners themselves. But a few chapters later in his gospel, Luke records an encounter that Jesus had with a man named Zacchaeus, whom Luke describes as “the chief tax collector in the region” (Luke 19:2 NLT). Much to the disgust of the Jews, Jesus decided to share a meal with his notorious sinner, and He would later shock the self-righteous and prideful religious leaders by announcing, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:9-10 NLT).
Jesus, unlike the Pharisees and other religious leaders, was dedicated to seeking the lost and offering them God’s unmerited gift of salvation. That was why He had come to earth in the first place. And Jesus repeatedly went out of His way to go where the sinners were. He spent His time in places like Galilee, far from the environs of Jerusalem where the religious leaders sat in the wealthy homes and enjoyed the perks that came with their privileged positions. Jesus even made forays into the region of Samaria, ministering to those whom the Jews considered little more than dogs and considered to be impure and idolatrous half-breeds.
So, that is what makes this surprising detour by Jesus so significant. He had been on His way to Jerusalem, the headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jewish religious leaders, when all of the sudden, He turned away and headed back into no-man’s land – the despised region of Samaria. Luke describes that Jesus traveled all the way to its northern border with Galilee, where He entered a village and was immediately confronted by ten men who suffered from the dreaded disease of leprosy. Notice how many men there were: Ten. How many coins did the woman in Jesus’ parable have? Ten. I don’t believe this is merely an interesting coincidence. This dramatic real-life encounter was meant to be a living illustration to Jesus’ disciples of all that He had been trying to teach them.
Upon seeing Jesus, all ten men cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13 ESV). They each shared the same common problem: leprosy. And none of them could do anything about it. As a result of this devasting and potentially deadly disease, they were social outcasts and even prevented from participating in services at the local synagogue. These men were all equally despised, rejected, and hopeless. So, in their desperation, they called out to Jesus for help. And He responded. But notice what Jesus did. Rather than immediately heal them, He gave them instructions.
“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” – Luke 17:14 ESV
Jesus gave them something to do. At this point, they each remain infected with the disease. Nothing has changed. But Luke reports that “as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14 ESV). They received their healing as they faithfully obeyed the command of Jesus. Even before they made it all the way to the priest, they received the mercy they had requested. But what happened next is revealing and the point of the whole story.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. – Luke 17:15 ESV
Don’t miss this. All ten of the men received healing, but only one of them returned to thank Jesus for what He had done. The other nine would have immediately recognized the miraculous change that had come over their bodies. They too would have experienced the inexpressible joy of finding themselves completely healed and whole for the first time in a long time. But only one seems to have recognized that his healing had been the work of Jesus. It almost appears as if the others believed themselves to be the source of their miraculous transformation. They had received a command and had obeyed it. It was their faithful obedience that had led to their healing – or so they must have speculated. But one man knew that he had someone to thank for his remarkable restoration. And that man just happened to be a Samaritan.
The fact that Luke points out this man’s ethnic identity is critical to the story. It seems to suggest that the other nine men were all Jews. They were card-carrying members of the Hebrew race. But not a single one of them was willing to give Jesus credit for his healing. They simply walked away.
What’s interesting to consider is that this one man, a Samaritan, had suffered a double liability. He was both a leper and a Samaritan. He was avoided for his disease and despised for his ethnic identity. And even after receiving healing from leprosy, he would remain a member of a people group whom the Jews considered sub-human and undeserving of sympathy and love.
And Jesus points out the obvious when He asks, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18 NLT). Nine had received mercy but had refused to give God glory. Only one man took the effort to return and express his gratitude to Jesus and offer praise to God the Father.
At this point, Jesus makes a fascinating statement that requires some unpacking. He responds to the Samaritan by stating, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19 ESV). The Greek word in this passage is sōzō and it conveys the idea of wholeness. What Jesus seems to be implying is that this one man received more than just healing from a disease. Each of the others had also been healed. But this one man, by returning and expressing glory to God and gratitude to Jesus, had received wholeness of life. This despised member of the Samaritan race didn’t just receive physical healing, but he was spiritually restored to a right relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In obeying the words of Jesus, the other nine men had exhibited a form of faith. But because they refused to express glory to God or gratitude to Jesus, it appears that they saw their healing as somehow their doing. They had obeyed and, as a result, they had been healed. But sadly, their physical healing was the only reward that they received. They had been healed but had not been made whole.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.