Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHCProper 23 Year C- Sunday, October 9, 2016
|"Ten Lepers Healed" by Brian Kershisnik, 1997|
Today’s gospel tells us a story of gratitude and faith. And Luke, the gospeller, shows us that genuine faith can come from unexpected corners. There were a great number of reasons for the enmity between Jews and Samaritans.
Samaria, the name of that kingdom's capital, was located between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. The Samaritans were a racially mixed society with Jewish and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as canonical, and their temple was on Mount Gerazim instead of on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Rather than contaminate themselves by passing through Samaritan territory, Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would cross over the river Jordan, bypass Samaria by going through Transjordan, and cross over the river again as they neared their destination. The Samaritans also harbored antipathy toward the Jews.
This enmity between Jews and Samaritans underlines a number of stories in the gospels according to Luke and to John. Jesus, it seems, did not shun crossing Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. His interactions with Samaritans are one indication that his ministry became inclusive of non-Jews.
In today’s gospel, ten lepers approach him at the outskirts of a Galilean village at the edge of Samaria and ask him for mercy. Merriam-Webster defines mercy as “kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly.” Lepers, in first-century Palestine, were indeed treated harshly. People lived in dread of leprosy, a loosely defined term used to describe any skin blemish or eruption that looked suspicious.
In Jesus’ time, it was thought to be radically contagious. Skin blemishes could also be an indication of liturgical uncleanness. The result, was that people with leprosy lived in total isolation: banished from their homes, from the loving touch of spouses, children, parents, from their faith community - so feared that even to cross the shadow of one with leprosy was thought to cause contagion.
Lepers lived alone, away from the community. Sometimes, they banded together to become a small community of misery, as seems to have been the case of our ten sufferers.
So when the ten lepers approach Jesus’ band of disciples and call Jesus Master and ask him for mercy they are being quite daring. In other such cases, the answer they might have received could have been a hail of stones or sticks shoved their way to keep them at a distance.
But rather than mete out harsh treatment on them, Jesus offers healing. “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Only the priests could have put an end to the lepers’ exile. They were the ones, not physicians, who could declare them healed of their leprosy and therefore liturgically clean. This would have heralded their return to community.
To the credit of the ten lepers, all of them needed to have faith in Jesus. The way Luke tells their story, they had to turn towards Jerusalem and attempt the journey there to meet the priests while they were still lepers. It is only as they went, that they were made clean.
But as that happens, nine lepers continue on their way to meet the priests. No doubt, they are so excited about what’s happening to them, that they can’t wait to be accepted back into their families and community and they forge ahead.
Only the Samaritan leper, stops in his tracks, marvels at his healing and is moved to turn back, praise God, worship Jesus and thank him. Only the Samaritan gives primacy to relationship with the Living God vs. religious propriety.
Jesus notes the ingratitude of the nine Jewish beneficiaries of his healing as compared to the gratitude of this Samaritan one. Only the Samaritan turned back. We can see this as a symbol of deepening conversion (metanoia). Our Samaritan changes direction. Not only does his healed body turn to Jesus but his life re-centers on God’s Word made flesh.
Only the Samaritan worshipped God in the person of Jesus and gave thanks.Not only has he been made clean; he has also been made well. Of the ten convalescents, he has come closest to experiencing the Kingdom of God here and now.
Eventually, Jesus sends him back on his way to the priests and greater social inclusion also.
We find the story of the ten lepers only in the gospel according to Luke. It focuses on the life of faith in two ways.
First, Gratitude is central to our faith experience. It puts us more closely in the presence of God’s grace. Jesus does not test the religious beliefs and practices of the Samaritan. His praising God and thanking Jesus are enough.
In our own lives, do we notice our graces? Do we offer thanks for them? Tonight, at the end of your day, count your blessings, if you can, and praise God for them.
Second, nothing stops the inclusivity of our loving God. Lepers and Samaritans alike are worthy of God’s mercy and grace.
Do not fear that you are beyond God’s mercy. God delights in your turning towards her and showers you with grace regardless. Do not exclude whom God loves. Look at whom you recoil at and learn to love them like God does.
Thank you, Jesus for your presence amongst us. Thank you, Jesus for your love manifested to one and all. We turn our hearts and minds towards you. We want to draw close to you and adore you. Invite us at your table. We are ready for your feast.Amen.