In our Gospel reading, Jesus cleanses ten lepers. 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.”
Jesus gave us two kinds of parables. The first kind of parable is the spoken parable, the second kind is the performed parable. Jesus acted out scenes packed full of theology and spiritual significance. These parables are just as powerful as the spoken ones, and they have the added impact of being historical. God manipulates Biblical history in just the right way to give us more detail on who he is and to point us to his son.
The healing of the ten lepers is a parable about what it means to give thanks and praise. Jesus healed all ten lepers, at a distance, no less, and only one of the ten came back to give thanks. This parable from the life of Christ tells us that we must give thanks to God for all the blessings of this life, the everyday blessings as well as the sudden ones. We must be on our knees to the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving every day.
It's also a parable about faith. The ten lepers had to have faith to be healed. He did not heal them immediately but told them to go and show themselves to their priests, who would be able to allow them back into the community. But they weren't healed yet. They would be going to the priests as lepers, and when the priests saw them, they would be rejected. It took faith to go to the priests, even though they hadn't been healed yet. Sure enough, they were healed along the way, so that when they got to the priests, they would be approved. This tells us that we are not only to give thanks to God for all our blessings, we are to have faith in God that he will bestow on us these blessings, before we get them.
Well, it looks like I just hit you over the head with two slabs of law. Are you giving thanks enough? Do you have faith that God will give you blessings in this life? No? Perhaps you may be feeling a little depressed that you aren't as thankful nor as faithful as you should be.
Ready for another slab of law? To the cleansed leper who returns to give thanks, praising God with a loud voice and falling on his face at Jesus' feet, Jesus says, "your faith has made you well." The Greek actually reads, "hey pistis sou sesohken se," which translates, "your faith has saved you." We have just moved from the realm of temporal blessings into salvation itself. Not only do we need to have enough faith for our temporal blessings, but it seems that even fewer of us have faith in Christ for actual salvation.
There seem to be two kinds of faith: one for what God gives us in this life and one for eternal life itself, and the faith that matters is the latter. Even though Jesus told all ten lepers to go and show themselves to priests, he asks the one who returned, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" As if he expected them all to return.
Look at what we have here: ten lepers were told to have faith in God's temporal blessings. They go in faith, and they are healed, but then they continue to the priests. This is like many who have a mystical experience and they believe that theirs is a true conversion, and now they spend their lives working hard for their church, having never heard the Gospel, and they ultimately perish.
One of the lepers was a foreigner, a Samaritan. He didn't go with the other nine when Jesus told them to show themselves to priests. His would be a priest in Samaria. He was already going in a different direction than the other nine. The other nine would be showing their newly-healed bodies to their priests, being allowed back into their religion, and living lives obedient to the law, maybe even working their ways up to Pharisees.
The average churchgoer has a mystical experience, they feel that the gospel has changed them, and then they spend the rest of their lives serving the church that changed them, never hearing the true gospel and now working their way to heaven. Ultimately, they are lost, because they never repented for the forgiveness of their sins, never put their trust in Christ for their salvation from God's wrath.
The Samaritan, the outsider, returns and throws himself at Jesus' feet in thanks. This is repentance. When we get gifts that we don't deserve we give a humble kind of thanks, not just a lip-service thanks. To just throw the gift on the table and shout "next" like a four-year old is not repentance. There's humble thanks, and then there's falling on your face at the feet of the one who bought you. That's true repentance.
The human race is plagued with leprosy. It's called sin, and it has been passed on to us from our federal head, Adam, and all of us have it. We are not allowed in the Lord's presence with this ailment as a part of us. Jesus heals us from this ailment, not by just calling out to us from afar, giving us a mystical experience, and telling us to get back into the law and begin obeying harder than ever. Look at 1 Peter 2:24 and 25:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Jesus himself took on our leprosy on the cross. The stain is taken off of us and is no more. We are free to live righteously, but only because he bled and died for our sins. The nine lepers who continued on will subject themselves to the burden of the law, and without repentance for the forgiveness of their sins, they will continue to stray like sheep. God saved the one Samaritan leper to everlasting life, and his response is to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of his soul.
That is what Christ has done for us on the cross. The law keeps us far from God; we can only cry out to him from a distance. He heals us of our transgressions with his own blood, and we bear fruit in keeping with repentance: rejoicing, praying, giving thanks. Bearing that fruit doesn't save us but are signs that we have been saved.