Am I the Samaritan leper or one of the nine?
I am both!
During his lifetime Jesus often came down hard on his fellow Jews for what has been called their singularity. This refers to their having assumed a personal and a national relationship with God that left the rest of humankind divided into various levels of defilement or unworthiness. Even some Jews were thought to have been excluded from Divine favour and were thus relegated to the category of the unclean. Among such unfortunates were lepers.
In today's narration ten lepers appeal to Jesus as a holy man to call down blessings upon them that they might be healed. Nine of them were Jews but one of them was a Samaritan, a neighbour but a foreigner none the less. He was therefore doubly unclean and yet, of all of them that were cured, only he came back to offer his thanks.
One gets the impression that the others somehow considered the cure to be owed to them because of their inherited relationship with God.
And so we hear this Gospel proclaimed and we sit back and complacently reflect upon the conviction that we are part of a relatively new and enlightened tradition that recognizes every single person as being a child of God. Apparently there is not much here of interest to us.
Perhaps but let's take a closer look. This is, after all, a story of God’s mercy but it is also about us, at our best and at our worst.
It is the story of nine people who failed to thank Jesus for his intercession and of one person who did thank him knowing that he had nowhere else to go but back to Jesus. He had nowhere else to go because the nine, in the name of God, of society and of propriety would have nothing further to do with him. Associating with him was o.k. for as long as they were all fellow outcasts but now things had changed.
Think about it. Jesus had cured them all...a cure that became very evident after they had set out, in accordance with his instructions to find a priest whose role was to attest to their lack of infection. The nine Jews continued on to complete the ritual...a ritual from which the Samaritan was automatically barred.
Did Jesus then set him up for this process of rejection? First by his former fellow sufferers and then by the priest?
I suppose you could say that he did. Jesus certainly knew that once re- integrated into society, the nine would reject the Samaritan simply because that is what society would demand...and he also knew that for the Samaritan to present himself to a Jewish priest would invite further rejection.
But, as always, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. The Samaritan, in his humility, wanted to express his thanks but, at the same time, he knew that in returning to the Jewish holy man and identifying himself he was risking an even more painful rejection. He probably anticipated Jesus saying something like, "Hold it right there! I didn't know that you were one of those damned Samaritans...I'm not so sure that I want you to be healed!"
But what he said was, "You are welcome, I accept your thanks...it is your faith, a faith of which you are barely aware, that has saved you…..continue on your way with my blessing."
And so the Samaritan and now former leper healed and filled with new hope continued to make his way in a society wherein the majority would still look upon him with disdain. He would go on living in a world where clean and unclean...liberal and conservative...cool and uncool...would continue to be operative distinctions.
Down through the centuries he would go, the son of many parents, loved by God and yet frequently dismissed or worse by proud, ungrateful people who had, in their complacency, forgotten that in the final analysis all they are, all that they have and all they can hope for is the undeserved gift of God.
He would become the patient victim of overly officious officials, condescending professionals, bigoted landlords, arrogant employers, contemptuous employees and woefully insecure neighbours.
Do you know him, this ex-leper, this Samaritan ? I do.
Sometimes he is me...sometimes you or your child or the person next to you. But she is most often the marginal, the disenfranchised. The easiest of whom to take advantage and the least likely to fight back.
The Samaritan is the next person that you or I avoid in a crowded room...disregard at a meeting or ignore as we hurriedly leave this church.
Yes, thanks be to God, I am the Samaritan...but God forgive me, I am also one of the nine.