First reading 2 Kings 5:14-17
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 97(98):1-4
Second reading 2 Timothy 2:8-13
Gospel Luke 17:11-19
“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee…” This is wonderful news, dear brothers and sisters! Another way we can word this phrase is, ‘On the way to stretch out his hands on the Cross, Jesus traversed the border –the liminal space– between those who were in and those who were out.’ Having set his face toward Jerusalem where he would go to his death on the Cross, Jesus is here already stretching out his hands, so to speak, by standing on the border, that is, holding together the Jewish people of the Covenant, and the enemies of the Covenant from Samaria. I said this is wonderful news because, though we are not Samaritans, we were, until the day of our Baptism, “enemies” of the Covenant, that is, people who were outside of the Covenant. It is only because Jesus “stretched out his hands” on the Cross, that we were brought in by his totally gratuitous grace. And in the Gospel today, we’re shown that gratuitous grace at work…
Ten lepers dwelling in this liminal space encounter Jesus on the edge of town. They keep their distance, as the law prescribed. Lepers were legally segregated from society because of their “uncleanness”. So, all of them were outsiders because of their medical condition, but at least one of them was more of an outsider because of his ethnic and religious identity as a Samaritan. The lepers cry out to Jesus for mercy, “Jesus! Master! Take pity on us” (lit. “have mercy on us”). “Go and show yourselves to the priests”, he replies. This is quite remarkable. When a leper was healed, they had to be inspected by the priests, offer the appropriate sacrifice and undergo the prescribed ritual cleansing. But here Jesus tells them to go and begin that process before they are actually healed. It’s their obedient faith in his instruction prior to seeing its results that leads to their healing on the way.
Now, here’s the crux: The ten lepers “go away”, according to Jesus’ command, from their life outside on the margins. But only the one that was furthest outside managed to go the full way. Sure, all ten lepers were cleansed, but the Gospel relates that only one was saved. All ten had their flesh restored and were brought back into society, but only one had his soul restored and was brought into the Covenant. The flesh is certainly important, but it’s not much use to us if the soul is dead. How was this man saved? We’re told it was his faith that saved him. But we know that all of them were healed because of their faith. They all blindly trusted in Jesus’ word. So, there must be something markedly different about this Samaritan’s faith. St Luke tells us that the Samaritan leper “turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” In other words, his was a faith that was both grateful and humble. He starts yelling and glorifying God. This is a gesture of extreme wonder and thankfulness. His gratitude leads him to then throw himself at Jesus’ feet, a gesture of extreme humility. In fact, gratitude implies humility because to be grateful for something acknowledges the receipt of a free, undeserved gift– we’re not normally truly grateful for something we’ve earned or think we deserve. This reveals the quality of this outsider’s faith. Then, there is the final touch: after asking where the other nine are, Jesus tells the man to get up (using the same Greek word which denotes the resurrection, i.e., ἀναστάς) and go since his faith has saved him. The obedient faith of the nine other lepers had cleansed them physically, but it was the obedient, grateful and humble faith of the Samaritan that saved him.
My friends, the Church’s Liturgy expresses this reality very beautifully. In every single Mass, the priest chants or recites in the preface, “it is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks…” Have you ever stopped to consider those familiar words? It is truly right and just, it is both our duty and our salvation to give thanks to God! Indeed, we also often refer to the Mass or Blessed Sacrament as the “Eucharist”. Do you know what Eucharist means? It is the Greek word for gratitude or thanksgiving! In the Mass we offer up to the Father the very Sacrifice of Jesus who on the Cross stretched out his hands to draw us, former enemies, into the Covenant, just as the Samaritan leper was brought in. We are therefore supposed to lift up that Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross with the same heartfelt gratitude and humility! What did it look like for the leper? He started crying out, glorifying God and then threw himself at Jesus’ feet to thank him. This is why at Mass we are meant to cry out the glory of God by singing the Gloria and the Holy Holy and the other various hymns. This is also why we get down on our knees at Jesus’ feet during the Eucharist. Dear brothers and sisters, if we do this with true faith, one that is filled with gratitude and humility, and if we take that faith, gratitude and humility out from this place into the world and let it permeate every aspect of our lives, we shall indeed be saved. For then every aspect of our lives shall become new and transformed and our getting up from this church shall become, like the leper, a resurrection.
Dear friends, let us become the Samaritan leper!