Luke 17:17

ESV Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?
NIV Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?
NASB But Jesus responded and said, 'Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they?
CSB Then Jesus said, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?
NLT Jesus asked, 'Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?
KJV And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?

What does Luke 17:17 mean?

Ten men with leprosy approach Jesus from a distance, begging Him to have mercy on them. He tells them to go to the priests. Leviticus 13 and 14 give Jewish priests the responsibility to identify when someone has leprosy and when they are healed from it. As the ten turn away to find the priests, they realize they are healed. One, the only Samaritan, turns back, bows at Jesus' feet, and loudly praises God (Luke 17:11–16).

Jesus rhetorically asks why. He isn't angry that the others didn't return and praise Him. He wants to know why they haven't returned to the place where they were healed to praise God. Why has only this "foreigner" returned? It appears a Samaritan (John 4:9) has more faith than nine Jews (Luke 17:18–19).

Once in this story is the term "healed" used, but twice, the men are said to be "cleansed." Leprosy is a broad term used for several skin diseases. The diseases can be uncomfortable or even painful. In modern medicine, "leprosy" refers to Hansen's disease, which is especially destructive.

Even more debilitating, however, is the fact that under the Mosaic law these conditions make people ceremonially unclean. Most things that made people unclean, like touching a person with a bodily discharge, could be resolved by washing and waiting until evening. Other things, like menstruation, childbirth, or touching a dead body, made a person unclean for longer (Leviticus 12; 15; Numbers 19). But leprosy made someone unclean until they were cured (Leviticus 14). That meant living outside of cities, staying away from anyone who wasn't similarly afflicted, and being banned from worship at the temple (Leviticus 13).

This is why Luke puts the emphasis on being "cleansed." As horrible as the skin disease is, the real tragedy is that lepers in this time are separated from other people and cannot worship God with the congregation. The nine Jews Jesus heals should be there to celebrate their newfound freedom. But it is the single Samaritan who returns, praising God as loudly as he once declared, "Unclean, unclean."
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