Reading: Luke 17: 11-19
Why did this man come back?
Jesus had said to go to the priest - the other nine obeyed Jesus’ command - why didn’t the Samaritan? Was it that he wanted to grovel in front of Jesus and ask for more? What reason did he have?
I have asked this question of a number of people. One reply I received was that we should say thank you for what we receive from God. The Samaritan was saying thank you. Yet this cannot be right! If it were, then there is no need to disobey Jesus’ order. It is a pretty weird person who wants to say thank you for a favour received by risking that favour.
This is not a story about saying thank you. It isn’t even a story about how we can be healed. It is a story about experiencing the power of God. Something I pray we will all experience. The Samaritan experienced more than physical healing, for he felt the presence of the living God at work in his life, and new he would never be the same again.
Leprosy is a terrible disease. Yet a lot of the fear associated with it is irrational. It is a hard disease to catch. Yet once caught its long term diagnosis is death. Unlike our medical science that can distinguish between simple skin complaints and the ravages of Leprosy - in the ancient world any skin complaint was suspect.
In Jewish society, anyone suspected of carrying the disease was immediately expelled from normal society. They were permitted contact only with those others who were “unclean”. They relied on the charity of others, living on the outskirts of towns and scavenging in the local garbage dumps. To warn others of their pitiful lot they would cry out “unclean!” People hearing this cry knew to stay well away.
Because any skin complaint was classed as Leprosy, there were many instances of people finding their condition has cleared up. These unfortunates were in a bind. Because they were known to have Leprosy, no-one would come close enough to them to confirm their healed state. The Jewish people overcame this problem by allowing anyone who thought they were cured to present themselves to a Priest. If the Priest on inspecting the Leper (from a safe distance of course!), the person was once again accepted into normal society.
The lot of a Leper was not a happy one. Feared by society, living off others charity and refuse, longing for the contact of family and friends - it is not surprising that Lepers were a pretty desperate group of people. Even the rumour of a healer would have been grasped like straws by a drowning man. Yet again they were caught out by the very nature of their affliction. No-one was going to let them get close enough for a healer to lay hands on them!
This is why we find the Lepers calling out to Jesus from a distance. They had no hope of getting any closer to Jesus, and they probably wondered what good their petition would do, as Jesus was surrounded by both his followers and the sick brought out from the village to be healed by him.
Yet Jesus saw them and answered their petition. He tells them to go show themselves to a Priest. The impact of this words would have been powerful. Jesus was telling them that he was going to heal them. So they all in faith set out on their way to find a Priest, and as they went on their way they were all healed.
Now we come to the hard part of the story. ALL of the lepers were healed. ALL of the lepers showed faith in Jesus. IF only the Samaritan were healed, then there would be no problems. We could understand Jesus statement “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well!” ALL the lepers had to have faith in Jesus or they would not have ran to find a priest - they would have seen they were still covered with scabs and sores. You only go to a Priest when your condition has cleared up - yet Jesus directs them to go while they were still unclean! ALL ten lepers show faith in the power of Jesus to heal them of what was considered an incurable condition.
What makes the Samaritan different? Up to a certain point he is just like the other nine. Like them he wants to be cured of his disease. Like them he acts in faith, and follows Jesus’ command to go and see a priest. But there the similarity ends. As he journeys to find a priest he realises that he is cured. Instead of continuing to follow Jesus’ command he turns around and comes back to Jesus, praising God and falls at Jesus’ feet and worships him.
Think about it. This man risked being cured - he put his future on the line - because he did not complete Jesus’ instructions. He did not go to the priest, instead he returned to Jesus. He risked the return of his disease, and rejection from society once more. Why then did the Samaritan come back?
He came back because he had discovered something more precious to him than his health, more exciting than the thought of being reunited with his family and friends. He had discovered that Jesus was the Son of God, and as such all he wanted to do was to be near him and worship him.
Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well. But faith had something to do with the healing of the other nine lepers also! What does Jesus mean by this statement? He means that the Samaritan, in recognising who it was that had brought about his healing and responding in praise and thanksgiving, knew healing within and well as without. The other Lepers experienced Jesus’ healing, but it went only skin deep, the Samaritan gained total healing of his whole being, inside and out.
We are like those lepers. We cry out to God and ask him to make us clean. Our lives are blemished by the sins we commit and guilt that will not disappear. We are ugly in our own eyes and the eyes of those around us. We have the choice between two responses to the action of God. Either we can, like the nine lepers, accept God’s cleansing and leave it at that; or we can respond to God’s activity in out lives with joy and worship him.
The nine lepers who did not return - their healing was in reality superficial. They were still the same person on the inside as they had been when lepers. The Samaritan, on the other hand, experienced healing of the soul, he was a changed man, his life would never be the same again.
We tend to get wrapped up in our lives. Our attention, by being focused on the continual demands of daily survival means that we don’t seem to confront the deeper issues of life. Seldom do we ask ourselves the questions… “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” “Does what I do really matter?” We seek to gratify our immediate needs and ignore the deeper issues at stake. Yet if we want to experience what happened to the Samaritan; if we want to know what it is like to be in the presence of God… then we need to realise that the answers to the deep questions of life are wrapped up in Him. Our hearts can also be filled with praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God like the Samaritan, if only we forget our needs and problems for a moment, and reflect upon the power and presence of God in our lives.
There are many Christians who have never known what it is like to be complete. To know the joy of God’s presence continually at work in their lives. They seek fulfillment in other things. There are some who glory in God’s creation, but unless it fills your heart with praise for the Creator, then you will never know deep satisfaction. Some people get excited by the profound truths found in the Bible, yet unless these truths move you to worship the Author, you will never know the release that comes from submitting to God’s will and purposes. Some people enjoy helping others, and yet unless you are in touch with the compassion of Christ, your helping is self-seeking.
Some find meaning in the fellowship of friends and family, and yet this fellowship is hollow until you know what it is to hear Jesus call you his brother, his sister, his friend.
God offers you this day, the opportunity to become whole. His power to heal is limited only by your willingness to respond to him. God cannot do much for those who limit themselves to their narrow desires and expectations. Open yourselves to God. Experience his power in your life today, and know what it is like to live life as a whole person. Jesus said, “seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” All you have to do is open up your life to Him, and you will never be the same again.