In Jesus day a leper had to live outside a walled town, although he could have lived in an open village. Wherever he was he was required to have his outer garment torn as a sign of deep grief, to be bare headed, and to cover his beard with his cloak, as if he were lamenting his own death. He had to warn passers-by to keep away by calling our, 'Unclean ! Unclean !' He could not speak to anyone because in the East this involved an embrace. This uncleanness would exclude a leper from his town, family and friends and from public worship of God. If he put just his head inside a house it was declared unclean, right up to the roof beams.
One rabbi left a record of how he used to habitually throw stones at lepers to keep them away . Others ran away or hid, even if the sick person was a distance away.
A priest was the person who would decide if someone had leprosy, and would follow detailed instructions from Leviticus 13. The following chapter outlines how someone who had been cured of leprosy could be declared clean. This included the priest inspecting the person over an eight day period, a washing and shaving of the cleansed person, and sacrifices being made.
This week we read how ten people came to Jesus. Powerless and rejected. Jesus healed ten, and made one better.
The lepers had different nationalities and different religions. The Samaritans had been brought into Israel's Northern Kingdom by the King of Assyria about 700 B.C. They had come from Babylon and other places and soon mixed with the Jews. They partly adopted the Jewish faith and built temples to rival the one at Jerusalem. One of these temples had been destroyed by the King of Israel 150 years before. There were hundreds of years of conflict and hostility between the Jews and Samaritans in the same way as there is hostility today between some Jews and Palestinians.
So the Jews would never think of a Samaritan as good. That is why Jesus parable was so shocking to his hearers.
A devout Jew would not have followed the route that Jesus did on the border of Samaria for fear that he might meet a Samaritan.
But we have a Saviour who came for everyone. Jew, Samaritan and Gentile or non-Jew. Thats you and me ! He came not to mix with the religious, the rich, the successful and famous but drew alongside those who were outcasts. Looked down upon by others. The tax collectors, the sinners, and the lepers. Even today the word leper can be used for someone who is despised and looked down upon. Yet Jesus spoke with them. In another account in Luke 5:13 he actually touched a leper as he healed him.
W.C.Fields said, " I am free of all prejudice. I hate everyone equally."
Jesus example shows that we are to love everyone equally. Even, and especially those regarded as lepers. Those who are rejected and despised by others.
In 1869, Irishman Wellesley Bailey was teaching in the Punjab, India, when he first met people who were disabled as a consequence of leprosy and were living as outcasts in colonies: "I almost shuddered, yet I was at the same time fascinated and I felt, if ever there was a Christ-like work in this world, it was to go among these poor sufferers and bring them the consolation of the Gospel". In 1884 The Leprosy Mission was established.
A major breakthrough occurred in leprosy treatment in 1982 - Multidrug Therapy (MDT). For most people, a six month course of tablets for the milder form of leprosy and two years for the more severe form will cure them of the disease. However, for those who suffer a disabling reaction caused by the build-up of dead bacilli in the body, additional steroid treatment is given.
Due to the success of MDT, the number of people with leprosy has fallen rapidly from some 15 million in the early 1980's to less than 2 million in 1999. Currently TLM has 2,300 field staff working in over 30 countries, whilst promotional staff in 25 national offices worldwide oversee the raising of income and prayer support and staff recruitment.
MDT has been very effective in reducing the number of leprosy patients in the world. However, there are still over 500,000 people diagnosed every year. The total number of people affected by leprosy, which includes not only those on treatment, but also those who have finished their treatment but who still have disability, or are stigmatised or suffering socially remains very high, at around 5 million.
As well as continuing to treat newly diagnosed cases, TLM will step up prevention of disability work and reconstructive surgery. Rehabilitation schemes to help people become financially independent and respected within the community are underway. More Vocational Training Centres are also being built to help young people affected by leprosy to learn a trade and find a job more easily.
TLM is motivated by Christ's ministry to leprosy sufferers and aims to provide holistic care to meet the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of leprosy sufferers and their communities. It has been very grateful for the recent political commitment to bring leprosy under control and is working in co-operation with governments, voluntary groups and churches in many parts of the world.
We are to love everyone, equally.
The lepers would have heard about Jesus. How he mixed with all types of people. Of his power to heal. Yet they are unspecific in asking him to have mercy on them, verse 12. They clearly meant they wanted Jesus to heal them. But for one of them Jesus was able to have mercy on him in another way.
Jesus reply required them to have faith or trust in him and to obey him. They had to go to be healed. They did this and were healed as they went to show themselves to a priest. To begin a process that would see them restored to their towns, their homes, families, jobs, and to taking a full part in the worship of God.
We sometimes take things for granted and forget to say, 'Thank you' for things. During our Harvest Celebrations we were able to realise how blessed we are to have clean running water. There are other things too, including maybe our families, home, health, food and drink, and relative safety...
The former lepers were so caught up with their healing that they forgot the healer. All except one. The good Samaritan. The second time that a Samaritan put Jews to shame in the life and teaching of Jesus. He threw himself at the feet of Jesus. Jesus was grieved by the ingratitude of the others. When he asked 'Were not all ten cleansed?' he knew that they had all been cleansed. Clearly he expected that they could delay enjoying the benefits of their healing for a few minutes to praise God for what he had done for them through Jesus. Gratitude should push the practicalities of life to one side.
Read verse 18. Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Jesus calls the Samaritan a foreigner. Acknowledging that he is outside God's people, the Jews. But he confers on him a status that the Jews that were healed did not receive. He says "Your faith has made you well." Not your faith has healed you. He could have said this to the others. Their faith was superficial, and selfish. But this man's faith was linked to a gratitude for what Jesus had done, and a personal relationship with Jesus. Being well was referring to his body and soul.
For a few moments I would like you to place yourself into the place of one of those lepers. You are powerless. Cut off from all that you hold dear. Home, friends, family, job and religion. You are despised and rejected by people. You come to Jesus in desperation and Jesus heals you by sending you on a journey that will result in you being restored to all of these things that you long for. Aren't you grateful ? Or does that get pushed to one side with what seems to be more important ?
The lepers were powerless, rejected. Everyone is powerless before God without Jesus and his Spirit. We are all separated from God by all the times we have failed to love him with our whole being, and failed to love others as ourselves. This is what Paul was writing about to the Roman Christians in 3:9-18. No-one is righteous whether Jew or Gentile. The Jews thought that because they had been chosen by God and had the law, which they tried to obey, then this would put them right with God.
Paul writes that the law only serves to expose our sinfulness and cannot put us right with God.
Paul continues that Christians are 'justified', verse 24. The term describes what happens when someone believes in Christ as his Saviour. From the negative viewpoint, God declares the person to be not guilty; from the positive viewpoint, he declares him to be righteous. He cancels the guilt of the person's sin and credits righteousness to him.
The only way that righteousness can be obtained is through trusting in Jesus. This is a free gift from God, and not obtained by anything that we are or have done. It is through God's initiative, his grace, or undeserved favour.
This happened 'through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus', verse 24.
Redemption is a word taken from the slave market, the basic idea is that of obtaining release by payment of a ransom. Paul uses this word to refer to release from guilt, with its liability for judgment, and to deliverance from slavery to sin, because Christ in his death paid the ransom for us.
Like the lepers we can only come to God relying upon his mercy, shown through Jesus' death for us on the cross. Once we have received this gift from God we are called to respond like the Samaritan. In gratitude of God and in a relationship with Jesus in the power of His Spirit.
That gratitude can express itself in so many ways. In praise, worship and adoration of God. In serving him, in our church, our local communities, our families and at work. In sharing with other the good news of Jesus in word and deed. We need to make sure that we are not just healed by Jesus... but that he makes us well. That we don't merely selfishly respond to what he has done for us, but respond in adoration and devotion to him.
Stir me to thankfulness, O Lord, for all you've done for me,
and help me to encourage others to come to you,
so that you can make them well.