Luke 17:11–19 records an account of ten men who had infectious skin diseases, commonly translated as “leprosy.” In the Israelite community, when a person discovered a rash or skin disorder, he or she had to go to the priest for examination. The priest then determined whether this was a contagious disease and whether the person was to be declared ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 13:1). Jewish law prohibited anyone with such a disease from associating with the general community. They had to be isolated and many times lived as outcasts until they died (Leviticus 13:45–46). This was necessary in order to keep infectious diseases from becoming an epidemic. But, for those afflicted, it could be a life sentence.
Jesus had healed several individuals who had leprosy or some type of infectious skin disease (Luke 5:12–14; Mark 1:40–42; Matthew 8:2–3; 11:5). In Luke 17 ten men who were part of a leper colony approached Him together, but they remained at a distance, as per the law. They called out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Without seeming to do anything to heal them, Jesus merely gave the instruction to go show themselves to the priest.
At the moment of Jesus’ instruction, the men were still lepers. No physical change had yet taken place. But, in faith, the men obeyed. As they began to walk to the priest, they were healed. Jesus always required faith on the part of the person who asked for healing. Many times He asked those who wanted to be healed, “Do you believe that I can do this?” (e.g., Matthew 9:28; Mark 9:20–24). He required a demonstration of faith on the part of the lepers in asking them to walk away, even before He had healed them.
The Bible does not record how far they had walked before being healed. However, only one man returned to thank Jesus for the healing. Luke makes special mention of the fact that the one who returned was a Samaritan, a person despised by the Jews (Luke 17:15). Jesus expressed disappointment that the other nine had not thought to give praise to God for their healing. From this we learn that God desires for us to express our thankfulness to Him for all He does in our lives.
Even though Jesus did not withhold healing from the nine who did not thank Him, He made a point of noting their lack of gratefulness (Luke 17:18). Because they had faith, all ten were physically healed. But Jesus’ final words to the grateful Samaritan imply that this man received spiritual healing in addition to the cleansing of his skin. After the man was already healed of leprosy, Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well” (verse 19). It could be that the man’s return to fall at Jesus’ feet gave him spiritual wholeness in addition to the physical wholeness he had received. When we take time to acknowledge the Giver and not just the gifts, we please the Lord as well as enjoy the spiritual healing that comes from gratefulness.