By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 17:11-19
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Sometimes leprosy went into remission, and if a leper thought the disease had gone away, he was supposed to present himself to a priest, who subjected him to a lengthy and complicated cleansing ritual before declaring the afflicted person clean (Lev. 14). Jesus’ response to the ten lepers to go to the priests when they implore him to have pity on them seems dismissive. He sends the lepers to the priests before they are healed; responding in faith, they go, and — unbeknownst to the lepers beforehand — Jesus will heal them on the way.
Luke gives no explanation for why the nine lepers do not return and thank God for their healing. Perhaps they are so joyfully occupied telling everyone who will listen about their miraculous cleansing that they neglect to thank the one who made it happen. But the one leper who returns and expresses praise and thanksgiving still counts. And, a fact not overlooked by Jesus, he is also a Samaritan — a “foreigner.” Being a Samaritan, as well as a leper, this man was doubly despised. Yet these are not obstacles to his receiving God’s grace, and he is the only one of the lepers who learns that his faith has played a role in his healing.
Is our trust in God as strong as the lepers’, that we act on what he says even before we see evidence that it will work? Are we mindful to be grateful for what God gives us? God does not demand that we thank him, but he is pleased when we do. Our responsiveness to God can become an opportunity for us to know him better.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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