11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
There are two ‘worlds’ behind the text: the world that produced it and the world of the time in which it is set.
The world of the author’s community
Scholars generally agree that the Gospel according to Luke was written in elegant Greek some 50 years after the death of Jesus, probably in the 80s. The Gospel is the first of two works by the author, its companion volume being the Acts of Apostles. Tradition has given the name of Luke to the author, but there is no certainty that Luke was the author’s name. Luke may have been a Syrian from Antioch. More details about the Gospel according to Luke can be found HERE.
Most scholars conclude from elements in the Gospel that the author was a Gentile writing from and for a community predominantly made up of Gentile Christians. Each Gospel is a testimony of faith that reflects the concerns and issues of its community. In common with much of Luke’s Gospel this passage assigns faith and salvation to a person who is not a Jew, reinforcing the message that the promise of salvation is for all peoples.
The evangelist indicates that he is not an eyewitness to the events he sets out (Lk1:1-4). Therefore, the world of the author’s community is in a different cultural setting to that of Palestine and is over 50 years after the time in which the passage is set.
This passage is only found in Luke. This means that it comes from an oral or written source to which Luke had access but that the other evangelists presumably did not. There also is an earlier healing of an individual ‘leper’ in Luke 5:12-16, a cure that is common to all three Synoptic Gospels.
The world at the time of the text
‘Leprosy’ referred to skin diseases of various kinds, none of which are considered to be the same as modern leprosy (Hansen’s disease). Those afflicted were classified as ritually unclean as was anyone who touched them. According to the Book of Leviticus (which was accepted by both Jews and Samaritans) anyone diagnosed as a ‘leper’ had to live outside the village or town and warn anyone approaching of their ailment. Their isolation continued for as long as the disfigurement was visible (Leviticus 13:2-6). If their condition improved, they were readmitted to community after priests had declared them ritually clean and offered sacrifice in the Temple. If it did not improve, they were ostracised permanently and depended on charity for survival, often congregating in groups for human companionship and support. (Adapted from John McKinnon)
There was deep hostility between Jews and Samaritans. Samaritans were outsiders. Jews considered that the faith of the Samaritans had been corrupted by the mixture of their Jewish ancestry with foreigners centuries earlier. Samaritans acknowledged the Torah but not the Prophets (some of whom denounce the wickedness of Samaria). Samaritans rejected the Jerusalem Temple and priesthood. The antagonism is evident in other Gospel passages: the Samaritan woman was surprised that a Jew would even speak to her. (Jn 4:4-9). Earlier in Luke, the disciples James and John express hostility towards Samaritans (Lk 9: 52-56). A Samaritan ‘leper’ could not be declared cleansed because such a person would not be admitted beyond the outer court of the Temple, and as a Samaritan would be permanently ritually unclean anyway.
Samaria was located between Judea and Galilee, south of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was “going through the region between Samaria and Galilee” (v. 11). However, they share a border so there really no region “between” them. The writer may have meant that Jesus and his disciples were travelling along the northern border of Samaria, skirting the hostile region of Samaria. On the other hand, Luke, a Gentile from outside Palestine may have been unfamiliar with the precise geography, as appears to be the case in Lk4:31/Lk 4:44 where he confuses Galilee and Judea. A third and most likely explanation is that the evangelist was not interested in geographical accuracy. The writer’s theological design needed conveniently to situate the incident involving Jesus and a Samaritan.