Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
11. And it happened, while he was going to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and of Galilee. 12. And as he was entering into a certain village, there met him ten men, lepers, who stood at a distance; 13. And, lifting up their voice, said, Jesus, Master, take pity on us. 14. When he saw them, he said, Go, show yourselves to the priests. And it happened that, while they were going, they were cleansed. 15. And one of them, when he saw that he was cleansed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16. And fell on his face 335 at his feet, thanking him: and he was a Samaritan. 17. And Jesus answering said, Were not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18. None are found that have returned to give glory to God except this stranger. 19. And he saith to him, Arise, go, thy faith hath saved thee. 336 20. And being interrogated by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God would come, he replied to them and said, The kingdom of God will not come with observation; 337 21. For they shall not say, Lo, he is here! or, Lo, he is there! for, lo, the kingdom of God is within you.
As, on a former occasion, Matthew and the other two Evangelists (Mt 8:1; Mr 1:40; Lu 5:12) related that a leper had been cleansed by Christ, so Luke mentions that the same miracle of healing was performed on ten lepers The object of this narrative, however, is different; for it describes the base and incredible ingratitude of the Jewish nation, to prevent us from wondering that so many of Christ’s favors had been suppressed, and so many of his wonderful works buried, among them. One circumstance, too, is added, which greatly heightens the infamy of their crime. Our Lord had cured nine Jews: yet not one of them returned thanks, but, with the view of obliterating the remembrance of their disease, they privately stole away. One man only—a Samaritan—acknowledged his obligation to Christ. There is, therefore, on the one hand, a display of Christ’s divine power; and, on the other hand, a reproof of the impiety of the Jews, in consequence of which so remarkable a miracle as this received scarcely any attention.
13. Jesus, Master 338 It is evident that all of them possessed some measure of faith, not only because they implore Christ’s assistance, but because they honor him with the title of Master That they made use of that expression sincerely, and not in hypocrisy, may be inferred from their ready obedience; for, although they perceive that the filthy scab still remains in their flesh, yet as soon as they are commanded to show themselves to the priests, they do not refuse to obey. Add to this that, but for the influence of faith, they would never have set out to show themselves to the priests; for it would have been absurd to present themselves to the judges of leprosy, for the purpose of attesting that they had been cleansed, if the promise of Christ had been regarded by them as of no more value than a mere inspection of the disease. They bear a visible leprosy in their flesh; and yet, trusting to Christ’s word alone, they have no scruple about declaring that they are clean. It cannot therefore be denied, that some seed of faith had been implanted in their hearts. Now though it is certain that they were not regenerated by the Spirit of adoption, yet there is no absurdity in supposing that they had some beginnings of piety. There is the greater reason to fear that sparks of faith, which make their appearance in us, may be extinguished; for, although lively faith, which has its roots deeply fixed by the Spirit of regeneration, never dies, yet we have seen formerly that many conceive a temporary faith, which immediately disappears. Above all, it is too common a disease that, when we are urged by strong necessity, and when the Lord himself prompts us by a secret movement of the Spirit, we seek God, but, when we have obtained our wishes, ungrateful forgetfulness swallows up that feeling of piety. Thus poverty and hunger beget faith, but abundance kills it.
14. Show yourselves to the priests This reply was equivalent to saying, “You are clean;” for we know that the discernment of leprosy belonged to the priests, who were enjoined in the law to distinguish between the clean and the unclean, (Le 14:2.) Thus Christ preserves their right entire, and appeals to them as witnesses for approving of the miracle which he had wrought; and we have accordingly said, that pious and devout sentiments concerning Christ must have been entertained by those men who were instantly led, by his bare word, to entertain the hope of a cure.
On this passage the Papists absurdly build their auricular confession. The lepers, I admit, were sent by Christ to the priests; but it was not for the purpose of vomiting out their sins into their ears. On the contrary, they were sent to offer a sacrifice, as the Law had enjoined. They were not sent to cleanse themselves, as the Papists imagine that cleanness is produced by confession, but to show to the priests that they were already clean. It is an additional proof of the folly of the Papists, that they do not consider what a foul stain of infamy they throw on their confession; for, according to their reasoning, it will be quite enough if, out of the whole troop of those who have gone to the priests, a tenth part only shall return to Christ, and all the rest shall wickedly revolt. They cannot plead this passage in behalf of their confession, without giving us liberty to throw back upon them this advantage which it yields, that none return from the priests to give glory to God. But, not to dwell on these fooleries, we have ascertained the reason why the priests were mentioned.
It happened that, while they were going, they were cleansed. Here was displayed the divine power of Christ and of his words, and there was also a proof of the high estimation in which God holds the obedience of faith; for the great suddenness of the cure arose from the confident hope which induced them to undertake the journey, without hesitation, at the command of Christ. But if that transitory faith—which wanted a living root, and produced nothing more than the blade—was honored by God with a remarkable effect, how much more valuable is the reward that awaits our faith, if it is sincerely and permanently fixed on God? Though the nine lepers derived no advantage to salvation from the cure of the flesh, but only obtained a temporary gift by means of a fleeting and transitory faith, yet this figure points out to us the great efficacy which will attend true faith.
15. And one of them, etc. It is uncertain if he returned when they were halfway, and Luke’s words appear to imply this; but I think it more probable, that it was not till he had heard the decision of the priests that he returned to give thanks. He must have obtained permission from the priests to return to the ordinary intercourse of life; and he had no right to neglect the command of Christ, and to defraud the temple of God of a sacrifice. Some will perhaps be better pleased with a different conjecture, that as soon as he saw that he was cleansed, and before he applied to the priests for a testimony, he was seized with a devout and holy zeal, and returned to the Author of the cure, so as to commence his sacrifice with thanksgiving. The words of Christ contain an expostulation with the whole nation; for it is by way of reproach that he draws a comparison between one stranger and many Jews, because it was customary with them to swallow up God’s favors without any feeling of piety. And this was the reason why Christ gained hardly any reputation among them by miracles so numerous and so splendid. Let us learn that this complaint is brought generally against all of us, if we do not at least repay the divine favors by the duty of gratitude.
19. Thy faith hath saved thee. The word save is restricted by some commentators to the cleanness of the flesh. 339 But if this be the case, since Christ commends the lively faith of this Samaritan, it may be asked, how were the other nine saved? for all of them without exception obtained the same cure. 340 We must therefore arrive at the conclusion, that Christ has here pronounced a different estimate of the gift of God from that which is usually pronounced by ungodly men; namely, that it was a token or pledge of God’s fatherly love. The nine lepers were cured; but as they wickedly efface the remembrance of the grace of God, the cure itself is debased and contaminated by their ingratitude, so that they do not derive from it the advantage which they ought. It is faith alone that sanctifies the gifts of God to us, so that they become pure, and, united to the lawful use of them, contribute to our salvation. Lastly, by this word Christ has informed us in what manner we lawfully enjoy divine favors. Hence we infer, that he included the eternal salvation of the soul along with the temporal gift. The Samaritan was saved by his faith How? Certainly not because he was cured of leprosy, (for this was likewise obtained by the rest,) but because he was admitted into the number of the children of God, and received from His hand a pledge of fatherly kindness.
20. And being interrogated by the Pharisees This question was undoubtedly put in mockery; for, since Christ was continually speaking of the kingdom of God as at hand, while no change was taking place in the outward condition of the Jews, wicked and malicious persons looked upon this as a plausible excuse for harassing him. As if all that Christ said about the kingdom of God were idle talk and mere trifling, they put a sarcastic question to him, “When shall that kingdom come?” If any one shall consider this question to have been put on account of the grossness of their own views, rather than for the sake of jeering, I have no objection.
The kingdom of God will not come with observation. My opinion is, that Christ now disregards those dogs, and accommodates this reply to the disciples; just as on many other occasions, when he was provoked by wicked men, and seized the opportunity of giving instruction. In this manner God disappoints their malice, while the truth, which is maintained in opposition to their sophistry, is the more fully displayed.
The word observation is here employed by Christ to denote extraordinary splendor; 341 and he declares, that the kingdom of God will not make its appearance at a distance, or attended by pompous display. He means, that they are greatly mistaken who seek with the eyes of the flesh the kingdom of God, which is in no respect carnal or earthly, for it is nothing else than the inward and spiritual renewal of the soul. From the nature of the kingdom itself he shows that they are altogether in the wrong, who look around here or there, in order to observe visible marks. “That restoration of the Church,” he tells us, “which God has promised, must be looked for within; for, by quickening his elect into a heavenly newness of life, he establishes his kingdom within them.” And thus he indirectly reproves the stupidity of the Pharisees, because they aimed at nothing but what was earthly and fading. It must be observed, however, that Christ speaks only of the beginnings of the kingdom of God; for we now begin to be formed anew by the Spirit after the image of God, in order that our entire renovation, and that of the whole world, may afterwards follow in due time.
“Et se ietta en terre sur sa face;” — “and threw himself on the ground on his face.”
“Ta foy t’a guairi, ou, sauve;” — “thy faith hath healed, or, saved thee.”
“Le regne de Dieu ne viendra point a veue d’oeil, ou, avec apparence;” — “the kingdom of God will not come visibly, or, maniifestly.”
“Iesus, nostre Maistre;” — “Jesus,our Master.”
“Le mot dont a ici use l’Evangeliste est celuy mesme que quasi par tout on tourne, Sauver.” — “The word which the Evangelist has here employed (σέσωκε) is the same word which is almost always rendered save.”
“Une mesme guairison corporelle;” — “the same bodily cure.”
“La ou nous avons traduit, a veue d’oeil, le Grec a mot a mot avec observation; c’est a dire, avec quelque grande apparence, en sorte qu’un chacun y puisse prendre garde.” — “Where we have rendered, visibly, the Greek literally runs, with observation; that is to say, with some great display, so that every person may take notice of it.”