Leprosy is mostly a disease of the of the upper respiratory tract with skin lesions as the primary external sign. If untreated, leprosy can progress and cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes. Contrary to folklore, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off, although they can become numb or diseased as a result of secondary infections. The body's defenses are compromised so a secondary infection can result in tissue loss causing fingers and toes to become shortened and deformed.
In biblical times, leprosy referred to several skin conditions besides what is now known as Hansen’s Disease. Lepers are somewhat contagious so were isolated and considered unclean. They were outcasts in society. No one talked to them or wanted to be with them. I try to imagine how that would affect their lives. When Jesus came and began to heal them, no wonder they were excited to meet Him . . .
And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Matthew 8:2–4)
On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11–19)
These incidents illustrate several things. One is that the lepers didn’t assume God’s blessing. They asked for mercy because they realized that healing was only available through grace. They had no merit or claim of worth. This humility is revealed by their request that included, ‘if you will’ and that they stood at a distance from Jesus.
Some try to approach God as if He owes them a blessing. The assumption is rooted in pride. Jesus has a strong rebuke for anyone who thinks they deserve His blessing. These verses convict me of spiritual pride . . .
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)
Likewise, the lepers made no claim to righteousness. This is the attitude that God welcomes. However, out of the lepers in the two examples given, nearly all of them had an attitude that does not please God. They did not praise or thank God for His blessing on them. Healing was important. The Law told them to show themselves to the priest to verify their condition, but as soon as Jesus told them to do it, they took off without thanking Him for what He had done.
Sinners, leprosy or not, must approach Christ with the same sense of need, humiliation, faith, and submission as did the first leper. We must also do what He says so that others can see the work He has done in our lives. Most of all, we must give praise and say thank you to Him. This also is the mark of a healed and changed life.
Jesus, I’ve never had leprosy but I recognize the same poor attitudes as those who did. I take You for granted and often forget to thank You with praise for Your answers to my needs. You take care of me, and You tell me what to do. My obedience is imperfect, but lack of praise and thanksgiving is a greater omission.