Outside a certain village on the Galilee-Samaria border, an encampment of lepers had stationed themselves a short distance from the road so that they could solicit charity without defiling anyone according to Levitical law. Word of the Master’s approach had preceded Him, and the lepers waited for Him expectantly. Like everyone else in the Galilee, the ten lepers had heard about Yeshua. They knew about how he had healed other lepers. They considered Him their only hope of healing and cleansing.
As He went to enter the village, the ten lepers “stood at a distance” and called out to Him, “Yeshua, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13). Wrapped in tatters and bandages, the lepers looked like dancing dead men as they shouted and waved to get the Master’s attention. The Torah banned lepers from entering villages and population centers. The lepers formed small colonies outside of the towns and cities. They lived in lonely places, begging for food, and waiting to die. They only found companionship in the company of other lepers.
The Master looked upon them with compassion, but He did not approach them. Instead, He called back to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14), meaning that He had already healed them. The Torah required the priesthood to visually inspect a leper’s flesh to ensure that the leprosy was gone before putting the leper through the purification rituals necessary to remove his ritual defilement. Yeshua told the lepers to go to the priests so that they could confirm the healing and take the lepers through the sacrificial and ritual procedures necessary. This demonstrates that Yeshua did not counsel against observing the Torah. Instead, the authority of the Torah is fully recognized in the New Testament.
Why did Yeshua remain at a distance when on other occasions He did not hesitate to contract the leper’s ritual defilement? He was “on the way to Jerusalem,” and wanted to maintain a state of ritual purity for the pilgrimage.
Yeshua’s instructions probably surprised and disappointed the ten lepers. The problem was that the lepers had not yet been healed. A glance at their own flesh confirmed that the leprosy still clung to them. Showing themselves to the priests while their bodies still bore the affliction could serve no purpose. In previous healing encounters, the Master had touched the leper, heedless of the ritual contamination He incurred as a result. This time, like Elisha in the story of Naaman, He instructed them to act on faith and go their way:
Behold, I thought, “He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.” (2 Kings 5:11)
Despite their disappointment, the lepers took Him at His word and did as he said. As they traveled to find a priest, the leprosy miraculously receded from their bodies.