On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus replied,“Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
Have you ever watch the tv show, “Naked and Afraid”? It takes two strangers and places them into survival situations somewhere like the Amazon rain forest or Australian outback or the African jungle. They can only bring one or two items with them, usually a knife or fire starter. They’re given a map of their location and where they have to be picked up. They’re there surviving for 21 days.
And yes, they’re completely naked.
Now some people flourish in this setting—reaching down deep and finding something that keeps them going. Some don’t. Some of those that don’t make it only last a few days, while others make it almost to the end. But the ones who make it out all do the same thing—they shout and celebrate! You can hear it in their voices and see it on their faces, they’re so thankful for being rescued!
In the story above, there were ten people who were living a similar nightmare. But it wasn’t for 21 days—it lasted until they were cured which could be years. In ancient times, if a person was diagnosed with leprosy, they were quarantined until they were examined by the priest to determine if they were healed. One of the reasons people were isolated was because leprosy (or ẓara’at) was seen as Yahweh’s judgment upon them. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia Online:
Ẓara’at was looked upon as a disease inflicted by God upon those who transgressed His laws, a divine visitation for evil thoughts and evil deeds. Every leper mentioned in the Old Testament was afflicted because of some transgression. “Miriam uttered disrespectful words against God’s chosen servant Moses, and, therefore, was she smitten with leprosy. Joab, with his family and descendants, was cursed by David for having treacherously murdered his great rival Abner. Gehazi provoked the anger of Elisha by his mean covetousness, calculated to bring the name of Israel into disrepute among the heathen. King…Uzziah was smitten with incurable leprosy for his alleged usurpation of priestly privileges in burning incense on the golden altar of the Temple” (Kalisch). It would have been quite natural for the people by a posteriori reasoning to have regarded persons afflicted with ẓara’at as transgressors; they had violated the laws of God and their transgressions had been great, else they would not have been so afflicted.
So, not only were these ten people in isolation, they were deemed “inflicted by God” and rejected by their communities. We can understand, then, why the people of Jesus’ day wanted nothing to do with such people.
But not Jesus; he clearly wasn’t bothered by such things.
What’s more shocking, then, in Luke’s story—the healing of ten people or the return of the one? Furthermore, Luke stresses that the one who returned was a foreigner, a Samaritan. As Luke has more stories about Samaritans than any of the other Gospels he clearly has a message he wants to stress. What could that be?
Frankly, I’m not sure what Luke’s intention was but there seems to be an idea that others can teach us a thing or two about our own faith. That perhaps people of different faith traditions can bring some understanding and light to things that we might otherwise miss. One of the things I find fascinating in most religions is the preeminence of loving others and non-violence, especially to those outside of one’s own faith. Perhaps a study of world religions might be fruitful.
Or maybe one of the things here is that our faith is measured by the way we treat others. How do we treat people society sees as the “foreigner”? Do we disregard them? Do we even notice them and their plight? Do we see them as a threat to our way of living? As people who follow The Way of Jesus, it seems we should be especially aware of those deemed by society as “Other,” whether they’re actual foreigners living among us or just people society doesn’t know what to do with. Maybe the directive to “do unto others” is especially true when those “others” are foreigners or societal outcasts like the lepers in this story.
Do we see ourselves in the face of the persecuted? Do we see the person of color as our brother or sister in need of healing? Do we see people in the LGBTQ community as people worthy of dignity and respect? Do we see the women of our world as human beings and equals? Do we see Christ in others? Do we treat others the way Christ treated us? Do we forgive them and love them and respect them? Do we offer them healing and rescue and food and drink and shelter? Do we recognize them as our own children? If not, why not? What’s holding us back?
The people society ostracized were the same people to whom God’s grace and healing flowed. God worked through Jesus to restore and rescue the outcasts, and it didn’t matter that (at least) one of them was a “foreigner”. God’s grace and mercy knows no limits. In fact, God crushes our silly, little boundaries with Grace and restores people to wholeness. Perhaps Luke’s telling of the story is to emphasise that the people who follow The Way of Jesus are to do likewise.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC