A Word for Today | Luke 17:11-13
The miracle of Luke 17 involves not one leper (as in chapter 5), but ten lepers who Jesus met on the way to Jerusalem. Leprosy was a corrupting disease that depicts the curse of sin. It worked death from within while isolating its victims from fellowship with other people. Worst of all, under the old covenant it barred them from fellowship with God. No condition was more feared or loathed than leprosy. Lepers were the walking dead, horrid portraits of sin’s effects in this world. How pitiable, then, was this scene of ten lepers calling out for help.
Luke tells us that these lepers saw Jesus from a distance and “called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us’” (Lk. 17:13). Here is a cry that is always certain of a gracious and saving response, because Jesus is filled with compassion. His mercy is like water, flowing down into low places where there is need. He is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). These ten lepers set a good example for sinners who want to be saved, because they appealed to Jesus on the basis of His mercy. All through Luke’s Gospel, we see different kinds of people approaching Jesus in various different ways. When the religious leaders came to Him, they approached not asking for mercy but demanding proof of His claims. Instead of, “have pity on us!” they cried, “prove yourself!” Or, in Luke 18, we find a Pharisee who approaches God in prayer on the basis of his merits and supposed good deeds: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers” (Lk. 18:11). Jesus rejected these approaches, saying: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 18:14).
These ten lepers had done nothing for Jesus, nor could they have. They stood far off, knowing well their unworthiness. They were as far as possible from what is good and wholesome. And yet when they cried, “Jesus, have mercy,” they found free and ready grace. This is a wonderful example that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone – not by works and most certainly not by unbelief. Their cry for mercy is always certain of a gracious and saving reply from Jesus. Martin Luther wrote on the cry that receives Christ’s favor:
It allows no merit, will not purchase the grace of God with works, like the doubters and hypocrites do, but brings with it pure unworthiness, clings to and depends wholly on the mere unmerited favor of God, for faith will not tolerate works and merit in its company.
As we face the challenges, failures, and fears of our lives, let us remember to call on Jesus for help and blessing. And if we call on Him for His mercy, Jesus will hear us and will answer with grace.
In Christ’s Love,
 Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. J.N. Lenker, vol. 5, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1983. pp. 66-67.