“Why did Jesus tell the ten lepers to go show themselves to the priests, asks a gracEmail reader, “and what did that have to do with their being healed? Was this a condition of their healing, like Naaman being told to go dip seven times in the Jordan River?”
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Luke tells the story of the Ten Lepers shortly after the disciples beg Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith” (Lk. 17:5, 11-19). In this context, “faith” almost equals “chutzpah” — the nervy audacity by which repulsively sick, “untouchable,” beggars shout out to Jesus for mercy from a distance. What do they have to lose? They already have lost their pride, both the nine Jewish lepers who have let a Samaritan join their band, and the Samaritan leper who so craves companionship that he travels openly with Jews. They don’t know what Jesus will do, but they know their own desperate condion.
Lepers, you remember, were outcasts in Israel — ceremonially impure and excluded from life in the covenant community. Even if a leper regained health, he did not simply saunter back into society. He had to be examined by the priest and certified as whole again (Lev. 14:1-33). Jesus tells these lepers to do what healed men should do, although they are not yet healed. Talk about chutzpah! These men were just beginning to learn the meaning of boldness and “brass.” Hasn’t Jesus ever read Levititus? How will the priests react if ten sick lepers land on their doorstep? But Jesus said do it — so the lepers headed for the nearest priests. And “as they were going, they were cleansed.”
Like these men, we are in desperate straits when we encounter Jesus. Our plight is humanly hopeless — we can’t come close to God. But when we exercise audacious faith — chutzpah, daring, boldness to throw ourselves on his mercy — Jesus tells us to begin living as if we are altogether whole. And as we begin to obey, we find his word coming true. Lord, give us faith to trust you outrageously.