Readings: Sirach 50:22-14; I Corinthians 1:3-9; Luke 17:11-19
The first time I preached this Gospel, an old friend of mine challenged me on being too hard on the nine lepers who had failed to give thanks. After all, they were only doing what Jesus had told them. The next time I preached this Gospel, I considered their perspective. Yet the fact remains that Jesus is not as impressed by their obedience as he is by the thanks of the one Samaritan.
Has Saint Luke left us enough clues to appreciate what’s involved?
Jesus is passing through Galilee and is near Samaria; nine lepers in this group are Jewish and one is Samaritan. How comfortable did he feel? Among these outcasts, was he the low man on the totem pole, being a despised Samaritan? Or did their common plight obliterate the prejudice? Was that one Samaritan forced to accept his disease, his vulnerability, while his ethnic and religious incongruity helped the others to focus on him rather than themselves?
And how did Jesus’ command to show themselves to a Jewish priest strike him? He certainly wouldn’t be allowed in the Temple while any local Jewish priest would not have welcomed him. Is Jesus, very ecumenically, suggesting that he show himself to a Samaritan priest?
Everything in this story underlines how different he is from the rest. So is he more self-conscious than the others? Is that why he notices that he is healed? Do the others notice anything that a priest doesn’t tell them? Did his isolation sensitize him to the God enthroned above the heavens but more intimate than the healing in his body?
All ten have faith to have called on Jesus in the first place; but do all of them have the same faith? How many of them were infected by the toxin of bitterness, self-pity, resentment or despair? Maybe not enough to wallow in their condition, but just enough to hamper their awareness of a cure. How much was this Samaritan afflicted by such negativity? Wouldn’t he have had to have been fighting that tendency just enough to be as cured in soul as he was in body? After all, can a self-absorbed and toxic person ever fell gratitude, ley alone give thanks to God or, more wonderfully, recognize a stranger as his salvation?