As Jesus passes through a village on his final trip to Jerusalem ten men with leprosy call out for help. He stops for a moment and says, “Go to the priests and let them examine you” (Luke 17:14). What strikes me here is that Jesus is directing the lepers to go to that very group of religious leaders who had given him so much trouble. When they ridiculed him for his position on wealth he reminded them that while they may have convinced the crowd that they were righteous, God could read their hearts and he found them “loathsome in his sight” (Luke 16:15). And now he tells the lepers to go to those very priests to be declared ceremonially clean. Why would he do that? Wasn’t he the one who came to replace their corrupt distortion of the ancient religion with a new understanding of the love of God?
Some might say it was his method of proving his adversaries wrong. They didn’t appreciate his ministry and had actively opposed everything he was doing. That the deaf could now hear and the blind see was of no particular importance to religious leaders who had surrendered to self-indulgence. So when the lepers appeared before the priests cured of their disease, his antagonists would have to admit that Jesus could do something way beyond their meager abilities. But does this scenario seem likely in view of the Jesus pictured elsewhere in the gospels? Hardly. So what is happening? Why did Jesus send them to the temple?
I believe it’s because Jesus had not come to establish a new religion but to fulfill the historic religion of his people. Never in his teaching had he suggested that the history of Abraham or the laws of Moses were something of the past and needed to be replaced with his new insights. It is true that in the course of history Christianity has come to be considered by some as unrelated to Judaism. But Christ is not the new leader showing a new way but the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. Christianity fulfills the hopes and religious aspirations of the tribes of Israel. What we call the “New” Testament is the fulfillment, not the replacement, of the “Old” Testament. I believe that what Jesus rejected was the hypocrisy and distortion of their sacred religion, not its essence. And for that reason it was appropriate for the lepers to go to the priest. It was the accepted way of being recognized as a renewed member of a religious society