Like a lot of Bible texts, there are a couple of ways we can hear what this text is saying.
The first is about being thankful. In this story, ten people with leprosy, who had been excluded from their families, their communities, even their worshiping communities, were able to return to their loved ones because Jesus made them clean. I can only begin to imagine the joy they must have experienced as they went to show themselves to the priests and found that they had been healed of their leprosy. They would have been able to go home to their families, others who cared for them, and to worship God with his people again.
The return of the Samaritan leper to thank Jesus for making him clean is a reminder to all of us that it is good for us to give thanks to God for all of his goodness to us. Especially in our culture which cultivates in us an attitude of always wanting more, it can be easy for us to take the good things God gives us for granted. We can be quick to ask God for things, but how often do we return to God and thank him for the ways in which he answers those prayers? Or how often do we focus on what we don’t have and forget about all the good things God is giving us every day of our lives? In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul says,
Be thankful in all circumstances,
for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (NLT)
I understand that having an attitude of thanks can be hard, especially when life is difficult or we experience tragedies of some kind. Paul isn’t saying that we ignore or minimize the difficulties or challenges of life in this world. Instead, recognizing the reality of hardships in our lives, giving thanks to God for the good things he gives us can help us to find the strength, faith and hope we need to endure those difficulties and overcome them in the strength the Spirit gives. No matter how hard life might be, God is always doing something good. The example of the Samaritan leper is to help us acknowledge that every good thing we have comes from God, and remember to take the time to thank him for the good things he gives us.
However, there is another level to this story. Luke tell us that when the lepers obeyed Jesus in faith and went to show themselves to the priest to get their clean bill of health, they were ‘cleansed of their leprosy’ (v14 NLT). In the same way, when Jesus asked the Samaritan leper where the other nine were, he talked about them as being ‘cleansed’ (NIV). When he talks to the healed Samaritan leper, though, the Greek text has Jesus saying to him that his faith has ‘saved’ him.
In recognizing God’s power at work through Jesus and returning to praise God by thanking Jesus for what he had done for him, the Samaritan was finding a more complete healing that his physical cure from leprosy. In this moment, the Samaritan in the story experienced God’s salvation in his life.
A lot of the time we can think of ‘salvation’ as something we will experience in the future when we die and go to heaven. However, Jesus is saying here that this Samaritan had entered into God’s salvation which he was bringing about in Jesus as a present reality. Through this man’s encounter with Jesus, by trusting the way God was at work in Jesus and thanking him for what he had done, the Samaritan became a part of Christ’s salvation of the world.
The New Testament consistently points to God’s salvation coming in the person of Jesus. God’s salvation is wherever Jesus is. We become part of God’s saving work when we recognize the power of God at work in the person of Jesus through faith, just like the Samaritan leper. Through this faith, when we give thanks to God and praise him for what he is doing in us and in our world through Jesus by the power of his Spirit, we enter into and can even experience God’s salvation in this life.
This salvation has the power to give us strength, hope and faith in even the most difficult circumstances of life. This salvation can give us a greater sense of who we are, what we are worth and why we are here. It brings light to the darkest times of our lives, gives hope when it seems like there is none, clarity when everything seems murky and confusing, and healing when we are wounded or damaged. We encounter this salvation when we hear the voice of Jesus which makes us clean, both body and soul. This salvation takes hold as it creates faith in our hearts, trusting in the way God is at work in our lives and in the world through Jesus. This salvation grows in us when we give thanks to Jesus for what he has done and is continuing to do for us by the power of his Spirit, and we praise God together for all of his goodness to us.
Life can be hard and it is easy to focus on what we don’t have. The story of the Ten Lepers can teach us at least two things. Firstly, every day God is constantly pouring good things into our lives. Take the time to count your blessings and thank him for the good he gives us every day. Secondly, when we recognize that God is at work through Jesus, bringing healing and wholeness to the world and to us, and when we take the time to come to Jesus to thank him for the grace he extends to us, we enter into God’s salvation here and now.
More to think about:
- Do you tend to be a ‘glass half full’ or ‘glass half empty’ person? In other words, do you find it easy to give thanks for the good things you already have? Or do you tend to focus on what you don’t have?
- Why do you think the 9 healed lepers didn’t come back to thank Jesus? Why do you think the Samaritan made the effort to return to Jesus? What do you think you would have done if you were one of the lepers in the story?
- What are you thankful for in your life right now? (Try counting your blessings every day for the next week)
- How do you usually understand ‘salvation’? Is it something you look forward to in the future? Or do you think of salvation as something you live in right now? Can you explain why you think that way?
- What difference could Jesus’ words make to your life when he says, ‘Your faith has saved you’ (v19), especially when you go through difficult or challenging times?