Like Paul who was ‘being made conformable unto his death’ (Phil. 3:10), the Samaritan leper’s return and thanksgiving signaled his refusal to simply return to normal life like the other nine, but to hold to his death, and function out of his death, by the gift of Jesus’ life.
Let’s survey Luke’s account where these ten lepers had to band together just to survive. They’ve heard of Jesus and upon finding him, lift up their voices: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (v. 13). It was an outcry and an appeal for one thing, and only one thing: mercy! Their approach had no claim to merit, no worthiness, no deserving anything, but only as dead men. And here mercy comes. In typical perplexing and mysterious style, Jesus simply calls back, “Go show yourselves to the priests” (v.14). What? Aware of no instantaneous change, they did as they were told and started walking, only to discover they were clean. This fact eclipsed everything, including Jesus himself. It seems they made a bee line right back to their former lives, like making plans for family, friends, and the old job, intent on immediately putting behind them the years of being disgusting disease freaks. Except for one. . . .
Let’s listen in as we imagine what he’d say: ‘Hey, I’m a Samaritan. I’m a double-dead dude, being an outcast by my nation, and being a leper. I should add to this that I’m also dead to society by their quarantine of me, dead to my old job (I’m not bad at fixin’ ox carts, just got somethin’ in my hands for it), and dead to eating popcorn and a movie with my big family (and we’re not even Catholic). I guess those other nine sickos I had to hang with only got revived but I realize that I got raised from the dead. And I will always be a dead leper who was raised to life by Jesus, whom I thank and in whom I believe. You see, when I went back and thanked him, he vindicated me and told me my faith had made me whole.
‘Something was just welling up in me when I walked up to him as clean. It’s funny: he’s the first person I got close to after my skin was suddenly like my baby’s, and I was on my face at his feet. I wanted to just honor him, and that felt so good! It’s like he forged a relationship with me right then and there. And now by that, and that alone, I am a dead leper that Jesus raised to life. I talk about still being dead because it’s so precious to me, the faith that got inspired in me by Jesus when I was, in fact, dead. All those years of suffering with leprosy, my bitterness, my loneliness, my wretchedness, my shame, hey, it’s all my history, but it’s all somehow been sanctified to me by him. I don’t want to lose touch with that kind of grace that transformed me. Not just my body: my very soul got healed. My whole image of myself is now all tied up with Jesus.’ ‘And now I’m living out of my death by the gift of Someone else’s life’ (compare Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of Grace [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing House, 1988, p.165, 166]. This whole book is worthy of your library).
The Samaritan’s salvation teaches us that, though death was clearly at work in him, it became the very operative of grace, ‘dead-raising’ grace, the only kind there is. Jesus is well known for this. His death works mightily upon your death, for when you know you’re dead you become capable of dead-raising faith, and now he can raise you with himself, “as those that are alive from the dead” (Rom. 6:13).