The Eyes of Faith

Luke 17:11-19 (2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111)

The healing comes from God to a foreigner who is on the wrong political side, who doesn’t even believe in God, and who storms off in a huff rather than bathe in the River Jordan – because it’s inferior to the mighty rivers of his homeland. Naaman is not a very sympathetic figure. Yet God heals him of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15).
Luke 17:11-19 tells of the healing of the ten lepers – an account found only in Luke. Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem – described in Luke 9:51-19:27 – during which time Jesus does a lot of teaching (mainly about the cost of discipleship). This account is about the eyes of faith.
The ten lepers shout out to Jesus from a distance. Although leprosy is not very contagious, it was once believed that it was, and sufferers were to keep their distance from people. They’ve clearly heard about him, as they call to him by name: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (vs. 13). The healing is rather strange: no prayer is said, nor ritual enacted; Jesus simply tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (vs. 14). This is compliant with the instructions given in Leviticus (13:9-17, 14:1-32) which describe how a leper can be officially declared cured and readmitted into society. So, off they go, still sick, but trusting in the cure that Jesus has implicitly promised. (Compare that with the doubts and passive-aggressiveness of Naaman!)
It is while they walk toward Jerusalem (in the case of nine of them) and toward Mt. Gerizim (where the Samaritan’s priest can be found) that they discover that they are healthy again. (“Cleansed” is how cured skin diseases are referred to in biblical literature.) I wonder how far they’d walked before they were made well. Perhaps they’d covered quite a distance. All were likely grateful for the healing; and a few may even have thought of going back to thank Jesus. I can imagine the internal conflict: I want to show my gratitude, but I don’t want to go all the way back there, only to have to walk all the way back to here before going on to Jerusalem. That’s a lot of back-and-forth!
Luke tells us what differentiates the Samaritan from the other nine: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice” (vs. 15). In Luke’s gospel, “seeing” is a way of describing “believing.” When eyes are opened, they are opened to faith. That’s why the Samaritan praises God. When he reaches Jesus, he does what no one else in the entire New Testament does: he thanks him personally. (All other words of thanks in the Gospels are directed towards God.) And so, Jesus makes a declaration that can easily be misunderstood: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” (vs. 19). Is Jesus saying that the Samaritan’s faith has healed him of leprosy? Not at all! Jesus makes no mention of the faith of the other nine, yet they are healed. Naaman had no faith in God, and yet Elisha prescribed a cure. Instead, this is an example of Luke’s concept of healing as salvation. Eleven times in the Gospel of Luke there is a healing (iaomai), compared with only eight instances in the other three gospels combined. This is clearly important to Luke. As I mentioned before, it is in healing that there is restoration of health and of relationship. The one who is healed can now be as God intended him or her to be. And the relationship between the one healed and God – and neighbor – is likewise restored. This is an image of salvation! The obedience of the ten have healed them. But the one who returns to Jesus does so in faith, eyes and heart wide open. And, this faith has saved him.
Only one praised God. And in this praise, we see a pattern repeated throughout Luke’s gospel. In fact, his gospel opens and closes with this pattern: The shepherds returned and glorified God (Luke 2:20). The disciples worshipped Jesus and returned to Jerusalem after his ascension (Luke 24:32). And the Centurion at the foot of the cross praised God and declared Jesus’ innocence and son-hood (Luke 23:47). And so, as one scholar points out:

With ties to the birth, death, and resurrection (ascension) of Jesus, “returning” and “giving praise” to God become hermeneutical lenses through which we are invited to see (and hear) the good news of this Gospel.

Yet, I’m left with these questions:
Why do we listen do intently to insiders, when this account shows that the outsider (Samaritan) has so much to teach us?
We are surrounded with blessings and abundance; why do we think in terms of scarcity; and why do we so easily forget from whom these blessings come?
We are always so terribly busy, with so many excuses readily at hand. Why do we so seldom turn and return, to give thanks to God?
Accustomed to complexity (like Naaman) what do we miss in the awesome simplicity of God’s love?

We pour scorn on the nine “ungrateful” lepers. Yet they trusted Jesus’ word, and were obedient to it. And off they walked towards Jerusalem. Don’t they show more trust in Jesus than we often do?




Pastor Ken+