The ten lepers




Use your own words to offer this meditation to God.

Bible reading

Read Luke 17 vv. 11 – 19.

Background information/commentary

The word ‘leper’ is used in the East to cover a variety of diseases, from skin conditions of the psoriasis type, to bone tuberculosis, to true leprosy. (1) True leprosy is a chronic infectious disease now known to be caused by the organism Mycobacterium leprae.  According to the World Health Organization, the first known written reference to leprosy is dated 600 BC.  Throughout history, people with leprosy have often been ostracized both by their communities and their families.  Untreated, leprosy can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. (2)

Lepers were an all too common sight in Jesus’ day as they were to be for long centuries after.  As an isolation measure which was most rigorously enforced, they were obliged to separate themselves from the rest of the population.  The doors of every home and every place of worship were closed to them, so too were the gates of every town and every village.  It was laid down in the 13th chapter of Leviticus that lepers were to wear torn clothes and let the hair of their head be dishevelled.  Their upper lip was to be covered and they had to cry out, “Unclean, unclean”.

So they were the ultimate outcasts of society, their conversation with the rest of the population confined to uttering that mournful and uncanny cry of “Unclean, unclean” and to begging alms from those who passed by on the other side.

Should the signs of leprosy, or of suspected leprosy, disappear the person had to be examined by priests whose diagnosis was based on the detailed medical observations set out in Leviticus.  If the priests were satisfied that all was well, the person was certified as clean.

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