Nov. 26, 2015
Luke 17: 11-19
Christian Brothers, Iona College, New Rochelle
Christian Brothers, St. Joseph’s Home, N.R.
“He said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has saved you’” (Luke 11: 19).
The gospel story of the 10 lepers is unique to Luke and is typical of Luke’s interest in Jesus’ attention to society’s outcasts and Luke’s interest in the salvation of the Gentiles—like the Samaritan leper.
The story also shows Jesus’ adherence to the Mosaic Law—a prominent theme in Luke especially in the infancy narratives. Jesus directs the lepers to “go to the priests” to be certified as cleansed of their disease, as stipulated by the Law (Lev 14:2-9). Priestly approval will allow them to return to the community, no longer compelled to live apart among the unclean, among those who seem to be cursed by God.
Not yet cured, the 10 lepers do as Jesus tells them. Isn’t this an act of faith? They ask for his pity, his compassion; and trusting further in him, they obey. “As they were going they were cleansed” (17:14).
Then, Luke continues, one of the 10 comes back to Jesus, “glorifying God in a loud voice,” paying homage to Jesus, and thanking him (17:15). We’re not told whether he does this after 1st going to a priest, or immediately. (Altho we’re not told the sex of the 10 lepers, the text is clear that this one is male.)
Perhaps there’s a subtle theological implication in this text. Certainly Luke doesn’t voice it, here or elsewhere, viz., that this one leper is showing himself to a priest, to the one true priest ordained by God, i.e., Jesus, the priest who obtains for us a deeper healing than a physical cure from disease; and only this one healed man recognizes this deeper reality in Jesus, who, under Jewish law, certainly wasn’t a priest.
Jesus is pleased that this one cured man comes back, praising God and thanking Jesus. Are the other 9 grateful to God and to Jesus for having been cured? We suppose so. We also suppose—Luke doesn’t say it—that they were all Jews. Clearly “this foreigner” has extra reason to be grateful; in Jewish eyes he’s less deserving of God’s grace because he’s a Samaritan.
Like everyone else, Jesus appreciates the personal expression of that gratitude from this one man; and he laments the omission of the other 9, who, perhaps, take it for granted that as Jews they merit God’s blessings. Jesus’ reaction informs us that it’s very important for us to express our gratitude; and in his goodness he’s given us the most excellent means of doing so in the Eucharist, our weekly or even daily expression of thanks to God for the unmerited gift of salvation.
When Jesus dismisses this one healed leper, he tells him, “Your faith has saved you.” Is this merely a reminder that his initial faith in coming to Jesus and then obeying his command has brought about his cure, as it did for the other 9 as well? Is it a statement from Luke that faith in Jesus is sufficient for salvation regardless of one’s nationality—that Samaritans and all the Gentiles are within the scope of God’s plan of redemption? Or is it a statement of something further? Is Jesus offering him also interior salvation, that complete salvation which only he can offer to us sinners?
At the least, this episode tells us who believe in Jesus that our faith is a saving faith. We know very well that it doesn’t save us from physical afflictions, at least not in any immediate sense in the normal course of life. It doesn’t save us from illness, from accident, from terror, from persecution, finally from physical death and decay. But it does save us from worse evils: from our sins, from eternal death, from eternal alienation from God and from our brothers and sisters in the human family. Jesus’ command to “go, show yourselves to the priests” has a deeper meaning for us, for those who exercise the priesthood of Jesus minister his salvation to believers thru the sacraments and the saving Word of God. Jesus offers us the pity, the compassion, the mercy of God when we call out to him in faith. For this, above all, we are grateful on Thanksgiving Day, without overlooking God’s many other blessings to us.