Today’s reading includes Leviticus 13:1-59, Mark 6:1-29, Psalm 39:1-13, Proverbs 10:10.
In today’s reading we see the specific instructions given to the priests concerning leprosy. We see no mention in the Bible of the problem of leprosy before the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. Was this a consequence of the exposure they encountered during their years of slavery. Tradition of that day, was that leprosy was not just a disease, but it was a sign of being unclean. It went deeper than a disease. It effected their entire life—physically, mentally, and spiritually. It was a gradual eroding of everything that was beautiful and godly and good in their lives.
It is interesting to note that the priests were only given instructions as to how to diagnose this “uncleanness.” They were not given the ability to cure it. But Jesus–the One of whom it was said, “by His stripes we are healed”–was the only One who could cure the unclean. Matthew Henry had this insight:
The plague of leprosy was an uncleanness, rather than a disease. Christ is said to cleanse lepers, not to cure them. Common as the leprosy was among the Hebrews, during and after their residence in Egypt, we have no reason to believe that it was known among them before. Their distressed state and employment in that land must have rendered them liable to disease. But it was a plague often inflicted immediately by the hand of God. Miriam’s leprosy, and Gehazi’s, and king Uzziah’s, were punishments of particular sins; no marvel there was care taken to distinguish it from a common distemper. The judgment of it was referred to the priests. And it was a figure of the moral pollutions of men’s minds by sin, which is the leprosy of the soul, defiling to the conscience, and from which Christ alone can cleanse. The priest could only convict the leper, (by the law is the knowledge of sin,) but Christ can cure the sinner, he can take away sin.
Luke 17 gives us a remarkable view of the difference between the priests of the day and the greatest High Priest, Jesus.
11 As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. 12 As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, 13 crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.
15 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” 16 He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
The ten men had already been diagnosed by the priests as lepers. And as a result, they were unclean, not only physically, but also spiritually. They called out to Jesus for mercy, and He gave it to them. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. They asked for mercy and they received it. They went to the priests to confirm that their diagnosis of leprosy, and their diagnosis of unclean-ness was no longer their reality. And that is what the priests declared according to their instruction of Leviticus 13. But the sad reality is that only one came back to say thank you. All received mercy, but only one sought grace. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. In His mercy, Jesus gave the ten lepers the merciful relief for their current predicament. But when the one man came back to say thank-you, he received grace in addition to mercy. And grace is even better than mercy.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
We need to pause in this great account and look at the details of who the man was. He was a leper, he was on the fringe of society—isolated and unwanted. He was a Samaritan who was hated by the Jews. But he was humble enough to fall at the feet of the Savior, for Jesus said “Stand up, your faith has healed you.” All of the ten lepers received the mercy of physical healing, but only the one who was humble and grateful received both mercy and grace.
Matthew Henry put it beautifully when he wrote:
A sense of our spiritual leprosy should make us very humble whenever we draw near to Christ. It is enough to refer ourselves to the compassions of Christ, for they fail not. We may look for God to meet us with mercy, when we are found in the way of obedience. Only one of those who were healed returned to give thanks. It becomes us, like him, to be very humble in thanksgivings, as well as in prayers. Christ noticed the one who thus distinguished himself, he was a Samaritan. The others only got the outward cure, he alone got the spiritual blessing.
I hope you (and me) want both mercy and grace. I hope we remember to say thank you and worship the One who has freely give us both. I hope we worship Him, even if we have to worship alone.