Wednesday of Week 32 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 17:11-19

This story of Jesus’ compassion is peculiar to Luke. We are told that Jesus was travelling on the borders of Galilee, the northern province of Palestine, and Samaria, which lies between Galilee and the southern province of Judea. Jesus is making for the Jordan valley on his way south to Jericho, one of his last stops before reaching his final destination in Jerusalem.

Just as he entered a village he was met by ten lepers (it does not specify whether they were men or women). As lepers they were not allowed to come in close proximity with other people because it was (rightly) known that the condition could be transmitted to others by physical contact, though we know now it needed to be fairly prolonged contact. We remember how the famous Fr Damien, the Apostle to the Lepers, eventually contracted the disease through his ministering to a colony of lepers in Hawaii.

Because of their dreaded disease, such people were literally outcasts condemned to live their lives on the fringes of society. The tragedy is that, given the limited medical knowledge of the times, many such people were almost certainly not suffering from leprosy at all, but from some other non-contagious but perhaps chronic skin disease.

So, calling Jesus from a safe distance, they cried out:

Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!

Jesus simply told them to go and show themselves to the priests. And, while they were on their way, they were all cured. Presumably they continued on their way to see the priests who would give them an official declaration of being “clean” so that they could once again legitimately return to life in society. A major element of their healing was their re-integration into society.

Just one of the cured lepers then came back to Jesus “praising God in a loud voice” and in deep gratitude fell at the feet of Jesus:

And he was a Samaritan.

These words are loaded with meaning. For it is presumed that the rest were Jews. In the first place, Jews and Samaritans could not stand each other, and the Jews tended to look down on the Samaritans as ungodly and unclean. But, in the misfortune of their leprosy, these Jews and Samaritans, rejected by both their own peoples, found common support in each other’s company.

But, now that they are cured, only one of them comes to say thanks and he is still – in the eyes of the Jews – an outcast. Jesus, looking around at the Jews in his company, expresses surprise that ten were made clean, but only one came back to give thanks and he was a despised foreigner.

This unexpected action is also reflected in another of Luke’s stories, which we reflected on earlier, that of the so-called “good Samaritan”. Here is another good Samaritan. And, of course, there is a third – the Samaritan woman who is featured prominently in John’s gospel (John 4:4-42).

To the man Jesus says:

Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.

That “get up” or “rise up”, which Jesus often uses with those he heals, has echoes of resurrection and entry into new life, a life of wholeness brought about by the man’s trust in Jesus and his acknowledgment of the source of his healing.

In the context of Luke’s gospel, the story prepares us for developments in the growth of the early Church, described in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. For, as the early Christians (all of them Jews) flee from persecution in Jerusalem, the people of Samaria are among the first to accept Jesus as Lord and to become followers of the Gospel, while many of the Jews in Jerusalem remain closed to Jesus’ message and call.

We, too, must never give in to a temptation to exclude any people as possible followers of Christ. We must be ready to reach out to all, even the most unlikely. None must be treated as outsiders or untouchables, even those who show themselves extremely hostile to the Gospel.

And while there may not be any real lepers in our own society, today is an occasion for us to reflect on who could be regarded as lepers, outsiders, outcasts, and untouchables among us at the present time. And, to ask whether I personally treat any person as an outsider in my home, in my work, in other places where I meet people. Such exclusion is totally contrary to what we celebrate in the Eucharist.

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