15 November. Wednesday, Week 32
Listen, O kings, and understand; learn, O judges of the ends of the earth.
Give ear, you that rule over multitudes, and boast of many nations. For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans. Because as servants of his kingdom you did not rule rightly, or keep the law, or walk according to the purpose of God, he will come upon you terribly and swiftly, because severe judgment falls on those in high places. For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested.
For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone, or show deference to greatness; because he himself made both small and great, and he takes thought for all alike. But a strict inquiry is in store for the mighty. To you then, O monarchs, my words are directed, so that you may learn wisdom and not transgress. For they will be made holy who observe holy things in holiness, and those who have been taught them will find a defense. Therefore set your desire on my words; long for them, and you will be instructed.
On his way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."
Jesus tells the man, "Your faith has saved you." We need that sort of faith, to recognise our total dependency on God for life and for its good use, and also for our cooperation with others towards eternal life. By faith God enables us to do our best to serve one another, and so to give praise to our Maker. To the healed man who threw himself at his feet, Jesus says, "Stand up and go on your way." The man, now healed of the dreadful disease of leprosy, stands up and goes his way with joy, no longer forbidden to live beside others, no longer ostracized as unclean. He resumes life as it ought to be, now blessed with good health and gratitude to God.
Alongside this joyful story the gospel has a sad commentary on human ingratitude. For Jesus asks, 'Were not all ten made whole? Where are the other nine? Was there no one to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?' At that time, most Jews scorned, feared and avoided the Samaritans, after a long history of mutual distrust. Some five centuries earlier, the Jews had refused to allow the Samaritans join in rebuilding the temple (Ezra 4). In return the Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim and tended to side against the Jews in later wars. Aware of this antagonism Jesus was trying to break it down and show that even Samaritans could have true faith.
Did their sudden return to health distract the other nine so that they failed in the normal courtesy of returning to thank him for their cure? It seems that God's finest gifts, life, strength, the ability to think and to act creatively, can easily make us forget God and also forget to serve our neighbours. The Book of Wisdom warns about the proper use of life and talents. It admonishes us that God made the great as well as the small, and provides for all alike; but a tougher scrutiny awaits people of power and influence.
"Who has returned to give thanks to God, except this stranger?" We have all received a great deal as a gift. We don't always recognize that the ultimate source of graces and gifts is God. That is what distinguished the Samaritan leper from the other nine who were cured. All ten were equally healed of a disease that had left them only half-alive. But only one of them, finding himself cured, turned back praising God at the top of his voice. He threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him for this cure. He thanked Jesus, but he praised God. He realised that God was at work in healing him.
Jesus praised this special insight. He didn't say "nobody has come back to thank me.." but "nobody has come back to give praise to God.. except this foreigner." That is why he goes on to say, "Your faith has saved you." This leper had the true vision of faith; he recognized God at work in what had happened to him, in the extraordinary way he had been graced. We are called to that same vision of faith, to recognize and to acknowledge God at work in all the experiences of grace that bless us in the course of our lives.