At first glance, the gospel parable seems to present one thankful person, and nine who were ungrateful. However, the dilemma of the Samaritan: The nine who went to the priest were being obedient to Jesus and the Torah, but the Samaritan couldn’t go to the priest because he wasn’t a pure Jew. So he turned back to Jesus.
The Old Testament required an elaborate routine for the cleansing of lepers: bathing, washing of clothes, shaving of the head and the offering of sacrifices (Leviticus 13-14). But Jesus pronounces the Samaritan clean on the basis of his faith. This shows that Jesus is acting in the place of the temple and the priesthood. Jesus is the new Temple and the fulfillment of the OT priesthood.
This was the thing that most scandalized the religious authorities. Jesus claimed to be able to do on his own, by his word and command, what the Torah said had to be done by through the temple and the priesthood. Jesus acted as one whose authority superseded that of Torah and Temple. Examples elsewhere in the New Testament:
Forgiving sins. The paralytic, Mark 2:5
Sabbath Rules. John 5:2-16, Luke 13:10-16
On the one hand, the nine Jewish lepers could be forgiven for going to the priest as instructed. That was what they were supposed to do. On the other hand, to be healed by Jesus and then to immediately depart from him without further acknowledgement was to miss the main point. The point was not, “I am healed.” The point was, “Who is this guy?”
New Testament miracles are “signs,” not ends in and of themselves. They point to the presence of God. Those who “get it” don’t hurry back into life as it was before; they “see” the presence of God, are grateful for his gift and begin to live in a new way as a result.
The Samaritan returned to give thanks. He returned to acknowledge the giver—not just the gift. The Greek word for giving thanks is Eucharist. Thus, the gospel Samaritan provides a model for our worship. We return each week to give thanks. For us, thanksgiving, Eucharist, is not merely an act; Eucharist is a way of life. Eucharist is the restoration of the human vocation that was lost through sin: To take all that God gives and offer it back to him in thanksgiving.
Our thanksgiving prayer in the daily offices says, “We bless thee for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life; but, above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and hope of glory” (BCP 33)
St Paul writes, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18). Is it really possible to give thanks to God in everything? If someone punches us in the mouth, or hurts us in some substantial way, it is hard to say, “God, thanks for that.” We don’t thank God for evil things, but we do thank God for his presence in all things. If we did not know Christ, we would still have pain; but we would not have the hope and promise that God will use the pain for good. Without Christ, there is Good Friday, but there is no Easter.
Thus, we give continual thanks in everything for the miracle of new creation; God continually brings the order and beauty of his new creation of our chaos. “In everything God works for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We return each week to offer Eucharist. We offer bread and wine to God, which represent the creation and our participation in the creation. We offer ourselves, our souls and our bodies to God in union with the sacrifice of Christ. Because Jesus is both priest and temple, our sinful bodies are made clean by his body, and our souls are washed by his blood. As return in thanksgiving to acknowledge the giver of the gift, Jesus says to each of us, “Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.”