On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:11-19 ESV).
The very first thing that strikes me about this pericope? The nine who get the bad rap — they were doing what they were told. They were obeying Jesus’ words: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” They are healed just as fully as the man who returns to give thanks. As they go their way to obey His words, they are all cleansed. They hear Jesus’ words, which echo the Law, and they obey. Leviticus 13, after all, prescribes this very action. Men with leprous diseases are to show themselves to the priests to be declared either clean or unclean. As they head out, Jesus heals them, such that when they come to the priests, they will be declared clean.
So what is the problem? They’re obeying Christ’s mandate to return; they’re obeying the law which says they must show themselves to the priests. They seem to be doing everything “right.” They appear to be Jews, and therefore should be “in” already. First, let’s contrast the nine with the tenth, the Samaritan.
The Samaritan is, of course, the last person the disciples or any of the Jews would think would be praised by Jesus. Samaritans, after all, were lesser citizens, half breeds, dirty. However, it is the Samaritan who turns back praising God. It is the Samaritan who is praised by Jesus and commended for his faith.
All ten received the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ which healed them of their physical disease. However, like the seed planted on different types of soil, the gracious words of Christ fall on different ears. The ears of the nine hear the Word of grace, their eyes see that they are healed, but turn again to trust in the Law. The ears of the tenth hear the Word of grace, his eyes see that he is healed, and he trusts in the graciousness of Jesus, takes joy in the Word and finds in the mandate the freedom to return and give praise to God.
We too, live in the joy of giving thanks to God because His gracious Word has fallen on us. Our ears have heard, our eyes have seen, our mouths have tasted and our faith has grasped the love of Christ for us. In response we cannot help but turn and give thanks and praise. We cannot help but turn from trusting in the Law to save us toward our Lord and Savior, Jesus, who has already done all that is necessary for us to be saved. He has both fulfilled the Law and taken its punishment upon Himself to free us from its condemnation. He speaks a simple Word — “You are forgiven. You are healed” — and in the speaking it is so. So we turn and sing: “Du meine Seele, singe, wohlauf und singe schön dem, welchem alle Dinge zu Dienst und Willen stehn. Ich will den Herren droben hier preisen auf der Erd; ich will ihn herzlich loben, so lang ich leben wird” (Evangelisch-Lutherisches Kirchgesangbuch, 197). (“You, my soul sing, awake and sing beautifully to Him, for which all things to serve and to will stand. I will the Lord above praise here on the earth; I will him heartily praise, so long as I will live” author’s translation).
Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, You are the gracious One; turn us ever toward You in trust of Your gracious Word and in thanks and praise for Your gifts of life and salvation to us, so that we may not once again be put under the condemnation of the Law, but rather may life forever with You singing in thankfulness and joy; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.