We have here an account of the cure of ten lepers, which we had not in any other of the evangelists. The leprosy was a disease which the Jews supposed to be inflicted for the punishment of some particular sin, and to be, more than other diseases, a mark of God’s displeasure; and therefore Christ, who came to take away sin, and turn away wrath, took particular care to cleanse the lepers that fell in his way. Christ was now in his way to Jerusalem, about the mid-way, where he had little acquaintance in comparison with what he had either at Jerusalem or in Galilee. He was now in the frontier-country, the marches that lay between Samaria and Galilee. He went that road to find out these lepers, and to cure them; for he is found of them that sought him not. Observe,
I. The address of these lepers to Christ. They were ten in a company; for, though they were shut out from society with others, yet those that were infected were at liberty to converse with one another, which would be some comfort to them, as giving them an opportunity to compare notes, and to condole with one another. Now observe, 1. They met Christ as he entered into a certain village. They did not stay till he had refreshed himself for some time after the fatigue of his journey, but met him as he entered the town, weary as he was; and yet he did not put them off, nor adjourn their cause. 2. They stood afar off, knowing that by the law their disease obliged them to keep their distance. A sense of our spiritual leprosy should make us very humble in all our approaches to Christ. Who are we, that we should draw near to him that is infinitely pure? We are impure. 3. Their request was unanimous, and very importunate (Luke 17:13): They lifted up their voices, being at a distance, and cried, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. those that expect help from Christ must take him for their Master, and be at his command. If he be Master, he will be Jesus, a Saviour, and not otherwise. They ask not in particular to be cured of their leprosy, but, Have mercy on us; and it is enough to refer ourselves to the compassions of Christ, for they fail not. They heard the fame of this Jesus (though he had not been much conversant in that country), and that was such as encouraged them to make application to him; and, if but one of them began in so cheap and easy an address, they would all join.
II. Christ sent them to the priest, to be inspected by him, who was the judge of the leprosy. He did not tell them positively that they should be cured, but bade them go show themselves to the priests, Luke 17:14. This was a trial of their obedience, and it was fit that it should be so tried, as Naaman’s in a like case: Go wash in Jordan. Note, Those that expect Christ’s favours must take them in his way and method. Some of these lepers perhaps would be ready to quarrel with the prescription: “Let him either cure or say that he will not, and not send us to the priests on a fool’s errand;” but, over-ruled by the rest, they all went to the priest. As the ceremonial law was yet in force, Christ took care that it should be observed, and the reputation of it kept up, and due honour paid to the priests in things pertaining to their function; but, probably, he had here a further design, which was to have the priest’s judgment of, and testimony to, the perfectness of the cure; and that the priest might be awakened, and others by him, to enquire after one that had such a commanding power over bodily diseases.
III. As they went, they were cleansed, and so became fit to be looked upon by the priest, and to have a certificate from him that they were clean. Observe, Then we may expect God to meet us with mercy when we are found in the way of duty. If we do what we can, God will not be wanting to do that for us which we cannot. Go, attend upon instituted ordinances; go and pray, and read the scriptures: Go show thyself to the priests; go and open thy case to a faithful minister, and, though the means will not heal thee of themselves, God will heal thee in the diligent use of those means.
IV. One of them, and but one, returned, to give thanks, Luke 17:15. When he saw that he was healed, instead of going forward to the priest, to be by him declared clean, and so discharged from his confinement, which was all that the rest aimed at, he turned back towards him who was the Author of his cure, whom he wished to have the glory of it, before he received the benefit of it. He appears to have been very hearty and affectionate in his thanksgivings: With a loud voice he glorified God, acknowledging it to come originally from him; and he lifted up his voice in his praises, as he had done in his prayers, Luke 17:13. Those that have received mercy from God should publish it to others, that they may praise God too, and may be encouraged by their experiences to trust in him. But he also made a particular address of thanks to Christ (Luke 17:16): He fell down at his feet, put himself into the most humble reverent posture he could, and gave him thanks. Note, We ought to give thanks for the favours Christ bestows upon us, and particularly for recoveries from sickness; and we ought to be speedy in our returns of praise, and not defer them, lest time wear out the sense of the mercy. It becomes us also to be very humble in our thanksgivings, as well as in our prayers. It becomes the seed of Jacob, like him, to own themselves less than the least of God’s mercies, when they have received them, as well as when they are in pursuit of them.
V. Christ took notice of this one that had thus distinguished himself; for, it seems, he was a Samaritan, whereas the rest were Jews, Luke 17:16. The Samaritans were separatists from the Jewish church, and had not the pure knowledge and worship of God among them that the Jews had, and yet it was one of them that glorified God, when the Jews forgot, or, when it was moved to them, refused, to do it. Now observe here,
1. The particular notice Christ took of him, of the grateful return he made, and the ingratitude of those that were sharers with him in the mercy—that he who was a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel was the only one that returned to give glory to God, Luke 17:17, 18. See here, (1.) How rich Christ is in doing good: Were there not ten cleansed? Here was a cure by wholesale, a whole hospital healed with one word’s speaking. Note, There is an abundance of healing cleansing virtue in the blood of Christ, sufficient for all his patients, though ever so many. Here are ten at a time cleansed; we shall have never the less grace for others sharing it. (2.) How poor we are in our returns: “Where are the nine? Why did not they return to give thanks?” This intimates that ingratitude is a very common sin. Of the many that receive mercy from God, there are but few, very few, that return to give thanks in a right manner (scarcely one in ten), that render according to the benefit done to them. (3.) How those often prove most grateful from whom it was least expected. A Samaritan gives thanks, and a Jew does not. Thus many who profess revealed religion are out-done, and quite shamed, by some that are governed only by natural religion, not only in moral value, but in piety and devotion. This serves here to aggravate the ingratitude of those Jews of whom Christ speaks, as taking it very ill that his kindness was so slighted. And it intimates how justly he resents the ingratitude of the world of mankind, for whom he had done so much, and from whom he has received so little.
2. The great encouragement Christ gave him, Luke 17:19. The rest had their cure, and had it not revoked, as justly it might have been, for their ingratitude, though they had such a good example of gratitude set before them; but he had his cure confirmed particularly with an encomium: Thy faith hath made thee whole. The rest were made whole by the power of Christ, in compassion to their distress, and in answer to their prayer; but he was made whole by his faith, by which Christ saw him distinguished from the rest. Note, Temporal mercies are then doubled and sweetened to us when they are fetched in by the prayers of faith, and returned by the praises of faith.