The parable set before us today is very familiar to everyone. Of the ten lepers cured by Jesus only one returns to give thanks to Jesus for his healing. And since it turns out that he was a Samaritan, presumably it means that the nine others were Jews.
Normally Jews and Samaritans would never be found in each other’s company. The Samaritans had been completely cut off by the Jews because of their sacrilegious opinions. The Jews regarded them as heretics who had turned their back on true religion and they would have nothing to do with them.
I suppose though that the plight of a leper was so severe that they simply had to band together despite the serious differences between them. Their need for support from their fellows was so great as to overcome any other obstacle.
Quite apart from the fact of their being shunned by everyone, the disease of leprosy which deadens feeling in the extremities meant that they often lost fingers, toes and even hands. Because they had lost feeling it was easy for them to get burnt or cut and infection would naturally result causing gangrene which led to the loss of hands or even whole limbs. Eventually such a severe affliction would lead to an early and squalid death.
This meant that they had to rely on others to cut up their food or attend to other basic needs. A person might have leprosy and for a time be fairly ok but then after a few years would start to lose fingers and then progressively other parts of the body eventually leaving them completely incapacitated.
This meant that it was in their interests to help each other, hence the need to band together in groups despite whatever differences would previously have separated them.
It is curious the way this particular miracle was performed. Walking away the lepers do not even seem to notice that they have been healed. It was only when they were a distance away that they find themselves cleansed. I suppose the lepers only gradually became aware that they were headed as they began to find sensation returning to where it had previously been absent.
There is no laying on of hands or special words spoken by Jesus on this occasion, they simply find themselves cleansed. It is a bit like some of the other miracles such as the centurion’s servant who is healed at a distance.
Jesus seems to like to work like this, as if they were healed by accident or indirectly. He doesn’t actually distance himself from the process and the afflicted persons are in no mistake as to who had healed them. But in each healing there are differences. He heals without following set procedures or formulas. One time he makes a paste for the eyes another time he tells a lame person to walk; each time it is different.
I suppose the underlying message of this miracle is that it is the Samaritan leper who returns to give thanks, the other lepers seemingly being ungrateful. One would have normally thought that it would have been the true believers, the Jewish ones, who would have given thanks but here it is only the so-called unbeliever, the heretic who shows his gratitude.
This reminds us immediately of the Parable of the Good Samaritan found elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke in which the Jewish travellers passed by on the other side while it is the Samaritan who takes care of the man set upon by thieves.
This difference between the Jewish and Samaritan lepers is underlined by the words of Jesus, ‘Were not all, ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?’
If we look closely at the text we can see that it seems that in the case of the Samaritan leper that a deeper healing has also taken place. Jesus says, ‘Go on your way, your faith has saved you.’ He is already healed but here Jesus refers to him now as saved.
Of course these two words are inter-related: healing and salvation. But in the case of this Samaritan it looks like that his faith has caused something else to occur and this is referred to by Jesus as him being saved.
I don’t think that Jesus can be meaning salvation in the theological sense which can only occur after death when cleansed of our sins we rise to our true homeland of heaven and see God face to face.
But maybe Jesus means that this man has experienced a profound moment of conversion that will ultimately lead to his actual salvation. This man is not going to be exempt from the many vicissitudes of life; he is going to have to make many other decisions in his future life and he is not going to be exempt from making wrong choices. It remains a possibility that he could still take a wrong path in life and find himself ultimately rejecting God and so ending up on the road to perdition.
But if he has experienced a true conversion he has a head start in life, he is going to be more naturally prone to making the right choices. He is going to be more willing to choose the things of God and follow the path of the virtues and right living. He has in short set off on the royal road which leads to his eventual salvation.
In his case he is not merely healed in body but, as a result of his gratitude, he is also healed in soul. His healing now has a much more profound dimension to it and he has become, in effect, a disciple of Jesus.
What is happening here is that we are being pointed towards one of the most important aspects of the salvation that Christ brings us and that is that it is aimed at everyone and not just to the Jews. Yes, the Jews are special because they are the race into which the Messiah comes, they are the Chosen People who were prepared from the beginning of time to bring Christ to the world.
But this does not mean as they seemed to assume that salvation was only for them. AS his ministry proceeds Jesus is making it clearer and clearer that his mission is directed at everyone. Beginning from the Three Wise Men we find Gentiles being brought in to the new dispensation and it becomes more and more obvious that Christ intends his salvation to be for the whole human race.
One of the upshots of this is that there can be absolutely no hint of racism or any other kind of marginalisation in the true follower of Jesus. All men and women are equal in the sight of God. Every single person is able to gain salvation and to experience the love of God. No one is excluded from God’s plans for the world unless, of course, they exclude themselves through a life of sinfulness.
This is Good News, it is Good News for every single person that ever has or ever will exist, that no one is excluded from the love of God or his promise of salvation. The Samaritan Leper was truly grateful, we should take him as an example and be constantly giving praise and thanks to God for the tremendous breadth of what he achieved in the life of Jesus his Son.
St Joseph's Catholic Church
191 High Road
18.00 (Vigil with Hymns)
09.30 (Family Mass)
11.00 (Solemn Mass)
12.30 (With Hymns)
Weekdays: 07.30 & 10.00
Confessions: Saturday 10.30-11.00 & 19.00-19.30
St Joseph's Catholic Church
T: 020 8427 1955
Saturday: 18.00 (Vigil with Hymns)
Sunday: 08.15, 09.30 (Family Mass), 11.00 (Solemn Mass), 12.30, 18.00
Weekdays: 07.30, 10.00 - additional mass every first Friday at 19.00
Saturday: 11.00 & 19.00-19.30
First Friday: 18.00-18.45
EXPOSITION & BENEDICTION
First Friday: 18.00-18-45