On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, 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 made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
It’s a simple story at first glance. Ten ‘lepers’ – people with some sort of skin disease – ask Jesus for mercy and are told to show themselves to the priests. They are all made clean, but only one of the ten makes the effort to find Jesus and thank him. As with so many gospel passages there are various messages we could take from this compact but rich story. We could use it as an example of the power of faith, or the importance of being grateful for the blessings we receive. Alternatively, we could use the fact that the one who returns to say ‘thank you’ is a Samaritan – a foreigner! – as a demonstration that Jesus constantly crosses cultural and religious boundaries, reminding us not to make assumptions based on people’s backgrounds and to be ready to cross borders. There’s also something else going on. What happens to these people after this incident? All of them are ‘made clean’, ready to re-enter a society which has shunned them. What has changed? The world is still the same, and they have had to change to fit in. The one who does return to say thank you is told by Jesus to ‘go on your way’, and so it seems the outcome is the same for all ten. And yet there is an important difference. All ten are ‘made clean’, but the thankful man gets a particular message from Jesus; he is told ‘your faith has made you well’. This could be translated differently as ‘made whole’, or even ‘saved.’ All ten are cleansed, but only one is saved. Jesus’ compassion reaches out to them all, but only one is truly transformed.
We could ask ourselves which outcome we are seeking. Do we really just want God to ‘make us clean’, take away our problems and suffering and make life easy, or do we really desire to be disruptively ‘made whole’ and transformed?
Loving and almighty God, like the one who came back we thank you for all you have done for us, for all your love and compassion, We ask too that through your love we can be made whole, and that, in being transformed, we can help others change your lives and help to build your Kingdom. Amen.
The Rev’d Nick Jones is minister at Heswall URC & St. George’s URC, Thornton Hough