“Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” These words of our Lord seem peculiar in a couple of ways. First, why is Jesus disappointed that only one of the ten cleansed lepers returned? Didn’t he tell them to go show themselves to the priests? Why should they turn back to Jesus?
Well, first we need to understand why Jesus told them to go to the priests in the first place. It was the priests’ job to inspect those healed of leprosy and to offer the appropriate sacrifices. You can read in Leviticus chapter fourteen of the elaborate rite God ordered for declaring a leper clean. After a priest found that the leprosy was healed, he would take two birds. One, he would kill and pour its blood into a basin of water. The other bird he would dip in the bloody water along with some cedarwood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop, then sprinkle the man seven times with these things before letting the bird go free. Then eight days later, the man had to bring two male lambs and a ewe lamb along with some grain and oil. And with one of the male lambs, the priest would offer a guilt offering, whereby he would take some of the blood from the lamb and put it on the man’s right earlobe, thumb, and big toe and do the same with the oil before offering the sin, grain, and whole burnt offerings. And all this the priest did in order to “make atonement for him.” (Leviticus 14:20)
So, Jesus sent these men to the temple in Jerusalem so that the priests could do these sacrifices for them and they could be atoned for. Yet, we must realize something about these sacrifices and all sacrifices in the temple. All of them proclaim Christ Jesus and the sacrifice he would make for all sins. In Hebrews chapter nine it states, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Jesus Christ is greater than all sacrifices in the temple. He alone makes atonement for the sins of the whole world, something the blood of beasts could never do. So, when this Samaritan returned and fell down to worship God at Jesus’ feet, he returned to him who is a greater High Priest than any priest working in the temple, who offers a greater sacrifice than any offered in the temple. Jesus is greater than the temple itself. The temple is where God dwelt. Yet, Jesus is God, and in Jesus God will dwell bodily for all eternity. This is why Jesus asked where the nine were. He wanted them to have faith in him, who is greater than the temple with its high priests and sacrifices.
The other reason Jesus’ words seem peculiar is that he asks, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” This sounds funny to our ears, because God is everywhere! And the Bible clearly teaches that you cannot run away from God’s presence. You can give thanks to God anywhere, whether you are at home, or out in the woods, or stranded on a deserted island; you could take a rocket to the moon and still be able to give thanks to God there! So, how does Jesus know that the other nine did not give thanks to God their entire jog to the temple? And that they didn’t continue giving thanks their whole lives?
And this is the way most people think. Since God is everywhere, I can worship him at my leisure, whenever it is convenient. Yet, it is different when you know where your God can be found. This Samaritan knew where his God could be found. He recognized Jesus as his God and Lord. He worshipped God and gave thanks to him at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus asked, “Where are the nine?” for good reason. He cleansed them of their leprosy. He did for them just as he did for this Samaritan, who believed in him. Yet, they did not return to him. They did not worship him. They did not have faith in him. And, so it is today. God sends rain to the good as well as to the bad and lets his sun shine on the unjust as well as the just. God feeds, clothes, and shelters unbelievers along with Christians. He grants success to life-saving treatments for cancer and other horrible diseases to the benefit of the wicked and the good. And these are all light things in the eyes of God. Jesus, our God and Lord, made atonement for all of our sins, paying for them with his blood. He has erased the debt of all mankind and won for all people forgiveness of sins, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Yet, Jesus may well ask today, “Where are the others? Were there not many more who were clothed, fed, cured, and rescued? Did I not win salvation for the whole world? Where are the rest? Was there found no one to return and give thanks to God, except these?
The Samaritan returned to worship Jesus at his feet, because he had faith in Jesus. Faith draws you to Jesus. The one who has faith seeks Jesus where he will be found, and goes to him to receive every good thing from him, to learn from him, to give thanks to him, and to sing his praises. Yes, faith will pray to God and trust in him in any place and time, whether on the battlefield or at the grocery store, but faith will always seek to go where God promises to be found. This Samaritan knew where he could find his Lord. He was just a few hundred yards away from him. He had just heard his voice. So, he ran back and fell at his God’s feet.
When Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He promised to be present where his word is taught and believed and where his sacraments are administered. Jesus is present in the Baptismal waters. Jesus is present in the Sacrament of his body and blood. Jesus is present with his words of healing wherever his word is proclaimed in truth. We don’t look to the hills for our help; we look to the Lord, who made heaven and earth, where he promises to be. And he promises to be in his word and sacraments. This is where you find Jesus.
That is why we are here today. We are here, because we know where Jesus is. He’s here. Here he cleanses us. Here he forgives us and strengthens us. Here he receives from us our thanksgiving and praise. When you kneel at the Communion rail, you kneel before Jesus himself in true worship. There you return to him from whom all blessings flow.
We need to be where Jesus is. We all heard St. Paul list off the works of the flesh, sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and we could list off quite a few more like these, which burden our conscience. Scripture is clear that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. And yet, we do such things, don’t we? Although we desire to walk by the Spirit, our sinful flesh overpowers us, convincing us to do those things we know we should not want to do. We’re guilty. We need Jesus. We need to hear that he forgives us. We need to be cleansed of our filth. We need to be strengthened, so that we can walk by the Spirit. We need to give thanks to him and sing praises to him, for not abandoning us to our sins. We need to be present where Jesus promises to be present.
Jesus said to the Samaritan, “Your faith has made you well.” Well, that is what most English translations say. The word Jesus used is actually the word for save. But the word can mean “healed” in certain contexts, and the Bible translators figured that the context implies “healed” instead of “saved.” Except, all ten of the lepers were healed. Only one of them had faith. The others cried out to Jesus for help, but they didn’t have faith in him as their God. They called him their master, but not their Lord. Only the Samaritan returned to Jesus. Only the Samaritan bowed down at Jesus’ feet. Only the Samaritan had faith. And only the Samaritan was saved, at least that day.
God heals everyone. He feeds them and takes care of them, whether they have faith or not. But he only saves those who have faith. Only faith, which trusts in Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing saves. And saving faith draws you to Jesus, where he can be found.
I don’t know what happened to the nine. I sincerely hope that they did come to faith in Christ. I know that was Jesus’ desire too. Yet, I know what happened to the Samaritan. He was saved. He is currently in heaven singing praises to God with the heavenly hosts. And we who trust in Jesus for forgiveness and healing will meet him someday. You, who trust in Christ will meet him just as you will see your Savior Jesus face to face, because your faith has saved you. Amen.