Gospel – Luke 17:11-19
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”
Reflection on the Gospel
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
The healing narratives of the New Testament are not simply stories of medical miracles.They are signs that the power of God is creating a new world, a world of life and of fullness. This world is known as the reign of God. Those who were healed enjoyed a
foretaste of that wondrous world. This is the world for which we all yearn, the world in which we will enjoy the fullness of life with God. The first reading and the gospel passage offer glimpses of that world. However, for many people – then and now –those glimpses are startling.
At the time of Elijah, the Israelites believed that they were a people especially chosen by God from all other people of the world. That a pagan like Naaman would be healed in the Jordan River of dreaded leprosy was unthinkable. Pagans were not deemed
worthy of the blessings of the God of Israel. Yet there the man was with flesh “like the flesh of a little child.” Naaman himself recognized that the power that cleansed him was the power of the God of Israel and he professed his faith in that God. Several features of this narrative are found in the gospel passage as well. There too ethnic differences and biases are noted; there too a non-Israelite is healed of leprosy; there too the nonIsraelite returns to glorify God.
Naaman and the non-Israelite were not merely outsiders. They each belonged to nations that were hated by the ‘chosen people.’ Naaman was from Syria and throughout ancient Israel’s history Israelite-Syrian relations were often quite antagonistic. The non-Israelite in the gospel was a Samaritan whose ancestors remained in Israel at the time of the exile and intermarried with pagan people whom Israel’s conquerors had resettled. These outsiders were hated by Israelites, yet the power of God healed them and they responded with gratitude and faith. Elijah did not seem to be overjoyed at Naaman’s healing, nor did the other nine men healed by Jesus, presumable Israelites.
These stories remind us that claiming membership in the ‘chosen people’ is not always accompanied by genuine religious sentiments of gratitude or faith. Instead, the people in the stories we least expect to show these sentiments are filled with them. It might be well for us to pause a moment and reflect on the frequency with which this theme appears in the Bible. So often genuine faith is found in the outsider – the person of a hated nation, or race, or social class, or political party; the one whose religious beliefs or practices are different than our own.
Today’s stories underscore another important feature; the healing of these individuals was not a reward for their faith. They first experienced the gracious power of God, and this spurred their expressions of gratitude and faith. The initiative was God’s. God looked with love and compassion on the outsider, and God’s graciousness awakened faith in them.
So who are the real chosen people in these stories; who are the ones who are transformed through the goodness of God? Might it be the Syrian and the Samaritan? Is the outsider the chosen one?
Dianne Bergant, CSA
Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP Distinguished Professor Emerita of Old Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.