I am struck by how often Jesus interacted with or told parables about Samaritans.
Pious Jews of his time regarded these people as half-breeds and scum. They were the remnants of the other eleven tribes of Israel who had been diluted and intermingled with other tribes and nations in the vicinity. They were people to be avoided at all costs and shunned whenever possible.
But one of the best known teachings of Jesus is still to this day known as “The Good Samaritan”! We name hospitals and charities after them and hold them in high esteem!
As I wrote in a previous column, it was at a Samaritan village well (in Sychar) that Jesus revealed to a Samaritan woman who was shunned by her own people that he was indeed the promised Messiah and offered the water of life.
Samaria was on the inland route from Galilee to Jerusalem and Jesus never avoided it or its people. On one of those journeys Jesus finds himself on the border of Galilee and Samaria and ten ostracized men call out to him:
As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” Luke 17:11-19 NLT
Jesus asks, “Why did only this one come back to thank me? Where are the other nine? Why is this foreigner, this Samaritan, the only one who returned?”
Jesus knew where the other nine were (they were showing themselves to the priests), so why was he asking the question, and who was He asking it to?
I believe he was asking it to those who were traveling with him to Jerusalem—he was asking these questions for the benefit of his disciples (and us). His focus during this time was on teaching and training them, so this event was just as much for their benefit as it was for the ten lepers.
Some have suggested the following reasons why the nine did not return. These are all excuses.
• One waited to see if the cure was real.
• One waited to see if it would last.
• One said he would see Jesus later.
• One decided that he had never had leprosy.
• One said he would have gotten well anyway.
• One gave the glory to the priests.
• One said, “O, well, Jesus didn’t really do anything.”
• One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”
• One said, “I was already getting better anyway.”
However, I think it’s possible that the other nine didn’t return because they were trying to do exactly what Jesus instructed them to do — “go and show yourselves to the priests”.
One of them did that but could not contain his gratitude!
So in returning to thank Jesus, the Samaritan was being obedient to Jesus as well! Jesus, according to the book of Hebrews, is our High Priest. The Samaritan leper, in returning to Jesus to thank him, went also to the High Priest of our salvation, and was declared well by Him.
You and I—we are lepers. And Jesus has redeemed us. He has healed us. He has made us whole. When we believe in Jesus for everlasting life, He gives it to us and promises that we never need become lepers again. We need never lose our eternal life.
And then He tells us to serve Him, and what do we do? We go serve Him. We go do things for the homeless people. And we do things for the homeless children in Africa. And we do things for the children in our own church. And we hold Bible studies and prayer meetings. After all, that’s what He told us to do, right?
No, it is not!
He told us to serve Him. To love Him. To worship Him. To sit at His feet and listen to Him. But we get so busy trying to do all these things, that we forget completely about Him.
Just like these lepers. We get so intent on doing what He told us to do, we forget completely that just ten minutes ago, we were lepers, and He has healed us, and our first priority is just to love him, and more than that—be loved by Him.
This holiday season can be a very busy time.
Here’s my suggestion: Do less. Love more.
Let’s just put aside all our business and all the things we have to go do, and the people we have to see, and just love Jesus. Sit at his feet and thank him. Sit on your couch, play some Christmas music, and praise Jesus that you are not a leper any more. Thank him for making you whole. That’s all He wants, and that’s all you need to do this holiday season.
Let’s get off the silly, works-righteousness kick of whipping yourself into a frenzy of love, repentance, and good works, and just relax in His love.
Be the tenth leper. Forget about your to-do list, and come back to Jesus, fall at His feet, and say “thank you.” He loves an attitude of gratitude!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://www.salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/?category=Bible%20Study