Ten lepers: the leper’s return


“…one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (NRSV, Luke 17:15,16).

In Our Lord’s day lepers were the ultimate outcasts of society.  They were forbidden to mix with anyone except a fellow-leper, and were required at all times to give warning to passers-by by calling out “Unclean! Unclean!”  Hence we are told in St Luke’s Gospel that the lepers stood and addressed Our Lord from some way off.

The Rabbis taught that all disease was the consequence of the sufferer’s own sins.  Leprosy, however, was in a class of its own.  It was regarded as moral death, and lepers were the living dead, and as such they were required to dress like a mourner – their clothes rent, their hair dishevelled, and the lower part of their faces covered.  They were as people going to their own funeral who read their own burial service as they go.

We can well understand, therefore, that when the ten lepers saw that they were healed they had much to be thankful for.  They had been delivered from a living death and had received the priceless gift of a healthy, normal life among their fellow human beings.  The tenth leper had good cause indeed to turn back, praising God and giving thanks.

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