The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
In this week’s lesson from the Gospel According to Luke, Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee when ten lepers approached him. In Scripture, those afflicted with this disease (as well as other skin afflictions) were subject to a number of social taboos and religious purification requirements - stipulations that were intended to protect society by insisting that lepers remain isolated from the community. Accordingly, in the culture of first century Palestine, lepers were shunned and generally treated as if they were invisible. But when Jesus saw these ten men, his reaction was different. He greeted them with compassion, as he did for all he encountered who suffered and were marginalized by the world. He saw their afflictions and offered healing.
Jesus then told them to go and show themselves to the priests who, in accordance with the law, alone could determine whether they had been cleansed of their disease and could rejoin the community. The lepers put their trust in Jesus and did as he commanded them. The actual healing occurred as they made their way to the priests. But one of the lepers, seeing that he had been healed, turned back, praised God and lay himself prostrate at the feet of Jesus, while the other nine went along to the priest as instructed. What we learn from this action on the part of the Leper who returned to Jesus is that obedience alone is not a sufficient response to the saving power of God. Indeed, this man’s example shows that we are also called to offer praise and thanksgiving.
In a surprising twist to the story, we also learn that this man was a Samaritan—a foreigner who lived outside the covenant community of Israel. We know from other passages of scripture that Samaritans were despised by Jews and considered unclean. Thus, the leper who returned to give thanks had been doubly “cursed” in this culture, because he was both a leper and a Samaritan. So, he stood as among the least likely of candidates to serve as a model for the rest of humanity.
But in this story we see the actions of the least likely person becomes among the greatest exemplars of what it means to live by faith. As an outsider, the Samaritan demonstrated what it meant to truly walk in the ways of God; and his enlightened and inspired actions resonate as much with us today as they did to Luke’s original audience almost two thousand years ago. He recognized that all good things come of God; and he took the time to show his gratitude in praise and thanksgiving. We can do the same.