Why Only One Leper Returned to Thank Jesus for His Healing
Luke is the only gospel writer who recorded the familiar story about the ten lepers who Jesus healed and only one returned to thank Him. This account found in Luke 17:11-19 would interest Luke more than the other three gospel writers because Luke was a physician.
The story is preached in church and taught in Sunday school classes. Most of the time, the story is taught only on the surface. When the layers are peeled back, people will see there is more to the story than ten lepers being healed, and only one leper returned to thank Jesus for healing him.
There are reasons that the one returned, and there are reasons the nine did not return. Let's discuss those reasons.
A big clue to understanding the passage is to pay attention to the fact that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when He passed along the border between Samaria and Galilee. The ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance because they were social outcasts. They called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
The group knew Jesus could heal them. Jesus did not touch them or speak a word over them. Instead, He said, "Go show yourselves to the priest." Keep this command in mind as we continue through the story.
"Go Show Yourself to the Priest"
Showing the priest that they had been healed was according to the Law of Moses found in Leviticus 13 and 14 that clearly states that the priest must validate that a person has been cured of the dreadful disease. If Jesus hadn’t sent the lepers to the priest, no one would have believed the miracle had really taken place. The nine lepers knew that and were obligated to obey. When they saw that they had been healed along the way, they kept going to show themselves to the priest like Jesus told them to do,
When the only Samaritan leper in the group saw that he was healed, he returned to Jesus to thank Him because he knew nothing about the Law of Moses. The Samaritan returned to the Healer rather than trying to keep a law he knew nothing about.
"He Was a Samaritan"
Verses 15 and 16 explain exactly why the one leper returned to thank Jesus instead of continuing along the way to the priest. "One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan."
Luke made sure readers knew that the one leper who returned was a Samaritan and not a Jew. That is a very important part of the story that many people overlook. Samaritans were enemies of the Jews.
The only Samaritan in the group didn't know the Jewish law so he wasn't obligated to go to the priest. When he saw he was healed, he made a major decision. He could keep going along with the others to see the priest whom he didn't know, or he could return to Jesus who had just healed him. The Samaritan leper chose to change his direction and return to Jesus to thank Him for the grace and mercy Jesus bestowed upon him.
An Additional Blessing
When the Samaritan leper returned, he received an additional blessing. After he thanked Jesus for his healing, Jesus did something for him that he didn't do for the others. In addition to the healing from his leprosy, Jesus blessed the foreigner, according to Luke 17:19.
Had the leper kept going along with the others, he would have missed out on the additional blessing.
We knew what happened to the Samaritan leper after he was healed, but there is no word in the Bible about what happened to the nine Jewish lepers. What we do know is that showing themselves to the priest was not a brief encounter. The inspection was a process that happened over a long period of time.
The obvious life application from this story is to always thank God for your healing even if you have to change your direction to do so. It also shows that when it comes to thanking and praising God, it is acceptable to leave the group to do so. Sometimes we have to do what we know to do even if we have to do it alone.
Jesus told the lepers to show themselves to the priest even before they saw they had been healed. In other words, we must believe the manifestation of something before it actually happens.
Like the Samaritan leper, return to your healer with a grateful heart. The healing was significant enough. However, when you thank God for one thing, there is more in store for you. In other words, you put yourself in the position to have even more to thank God for. The leper who went back received more.
Jesus is no respecter of persons. He did not discriminate between the nine Jewish lepers and one Samaritan leper. He healed all of them without making an exception.
This story is usually preached around the Thanksgiving holiday. However, it should not be limited to just that time of the year.