“As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'” (Luke 17:12-13)
When we think about Jesus encounter with ten lepers we must understand that they were condemned by the Law of Moses. Leviticus 13:45-46 gave specific regulations as to how to deal with leprosy: “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” Those whom the priests diagnosed as leprous were unclean. They could not go into the Temple, worship or offer sacrifice. They could not participate in the social life of the community. They had to be isolated from every one else. In Jesus’ day this meant they had to dwell outside the towns or villages, in the countryside away from other people and even from all their loved ones. They could make any one who came into contact with them unclean. So lepers became outcasts and pariahs.
Imagine how you would feel if you had people calling you unclean all the time and in addition you had to say it too. You would feel pretty low and bad about yourself, that you were no good at all. You would try to avoid all unnecessary contact with others. They would not have been angry with God but would rather have felt so much shame and guilt that they would have been totally disgusted with themselves to the point of self-hatred.
Each one of us is like those lepers, tainted by the leprosy of sin. Some realize it, most do not. We who realize it are the ones who are in the very place where we can receive God’s mercy and grace. We realize we were and are sinners. We were and are filled with guilt and shame, separated from God, misfits in society because we felt such guilt. The world denies such guilt but we could not get rid of it. It crushed us and weighed us down so that we despised ourselves and were despised by everyone else. Yet Jesus di not despise those 10 lepers nor does He despise us. He healed them and He healed us by taking our guilt and shame upon Himself on the cross.