Just one month ago, on October 13, we heard the story of the ten cleansed lepers from the Gospel of St. Luke on the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. We will hear the story once again at the end of this month as we celebrate Thanksgiving on November 28. Obviously, the story highlights the fact that the only response to God's faithful love that is acceptable is one of gratitude.
However, St. Luke is the only evangelist to tell this story in just this way. First of all he increases the number of lepers to ten. The other Gospels have Jesus interacting with one or two lepers. St. Luke, the only Gentile evangelist, adds a Samaritan to the mix.
I have never been able to be too hard on the nine lepers who do not return to Jesus. They were only doing what was required by the Law. Jesus himself tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. This is the only way that the Jewish lepers can return to their families, their villages, their worshipping communities. If they failed to do that, they would still be considered unclean and unable to participate in the ordinary life of the Jewish community.
The real issue here is the exclusion of the Samaritan. He could not enter the Temple, could not show himself to the priests. He would have taken his life in his hands had he dared to enter the Temple precincts. So while he was included in the group of ten (the number needed for Jewish men to pray together), once they were cleansed, he was excluded. So he returns to Jesus and falls down before him and worships.
Observing the Law, according to St. Paul, only condemns. It does not save. Only Jesus saves. The religious rites of the Temple cannot save the nine. Only the faith displayed by the Samaritan in worshipping Jesus can save.
So while this Gospel is obviously used to teach us to be grateful, it is also a Gospel story about being saved through faith rather than by religious observance or any other kind of works or good deeds. Jesus himself confirms this when he says to the Samaritan, "Your faith has saved you."