This past week, my pastor preached on a story from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus heals ten lepers. All were cleansed by Jesus, and only one—a Samaritan— came back to thank Him. Jesus' response was, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” See, in Jesus’ world, ethnic demarcations were a big deal, in part because they represented an ancient concept called cultic purity; Samaritans were “unclean” and therefore not fit to enter the Temple, even if they were godly people. What’s more, Jews weren’t even supposed to touch Samaritans, lest they become “unclean” also. That Jesus healed a Samaritan at all might have been quite scandalous in this world, and the fact that this foreigner—who wasn’t even allowed to partake with the Jews in the privileges of worship—was the only one who came back to thank Jesus, is equally stunning.
My pastor asked us where we find ourselves in the story. As I listened, I realized, "I'm the foreigner," not because I'm more grateful than others, but because I too was once considered an outsider. I too was once cut off from the people of God-- not because of ethnicity, but because of sin-- but was brought near by Jesus anyway. What do I mean? the New Testament book of Hebrews reminds us that up until the time of Jesus, the Holy Place in the Temple (where God’s presence dwelt) was closed off even for Jews. Only the high priest could enter—and he once a year—to offer a sacrifice. This was because the sin that afflicted both Jew and Gentile made all “unclean,” barring the way to God’s presence. But Jesus, the spotless one, entered the Holy Place and offered Himself as a sacrifice, “once for all,” (Heb. 6:12) for our sins. He did it so that all could be cleansed; so that all could be “brought near,” (Eph. 2:13); so that all would no longer be called “foreigners,” but “sons and daughters” (Gal. 4:7).
And so, like the foreigner in the Gospel account, my life has been changed my Jesus forever. And that is why I thank Him.