Luke 17:11-19 Ten Lepers
FR.JOHN PARANJATTU, RAJKOTT DIOCESE
Luke presents Jesus on his way to Jerusalem passing through the region between Samaria and Galilee. He enters a village and ten lepers approach him with the request to be healed. Jesus, the merciful healer, asks them to show themselves to the priest in Jerusalem and get the certificate of their healing as per the Jewish custom (cf. Leviticus 14). Now the whole world is under the grip of the global pandemic Covid-19. If a person is tested positive, until he is found to be negative he cannot come out of his house/hospital/quarantine center. Even after being found negative, one has to remain in quarantine 14 more days. Similar is the situation that we find in Leviticus Chapters13 and 14 for a leper who is ceremonially pronounced unclean. First, the priest examines the person with the skin disease and if it is found to be a leprous disease he is confined for seven days. The priest examines him again on the seventh day and if the disease has not spread in the skin the priest shall pronounce him clean. If spread, then it is again the priest who has to examine such a person and declare him clean. The purification ritual is mentioned in Leviticus 14. The priest has to examine him and is sprinkled with the blood of a clean bird slaughtered. Thereafter, he has to remain outside the tent for seven more days. On the seventh day, he shall shave all his hair, wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean. It is in this context that we need to look at the cleansing of the Ten Lepers.
The nine out of ten healed were Jews and only one was a Samaritan. The Gospel is written to the Gentile Christians, who heard it due to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews (cf. Acts 18:6). St. Paul would tell the Gentiles that they have become very dear to them and so care for them like a nurse caring for her own children (1Thes 2:7-8). Thus, Luke too would tell them that Jesus really cared for everyone and the gratitude of the Samaritan was highly valued by him and the negligence of the Jews was very painful. As the lepers approached Jesus, keeping their distance, they cried out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When Jesus saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests”. Jesus gives an immediate response to the cries of those who were ostracizedby the society. They could not visit their homes. They could not touch anyone. They could not come near anyone. (Even amidst Covid-19, these restrictions are prevalent.) A kind word heals wounded hearts. Such was the experience of the lepers. Jesus’ kind gesture healed not only their physical infirmity but also their hearts.
Jesus was merciful both to the Jews as well as to the Samaritan. However, it was the Samaritan who wouldn’t travel to Jerusalem to be examined by the priest, realizes the need to express his gratitude to the Lord who restored his social dignity. [We do not know whether the Samaritan was ever asked to show himself to a Samaritan priest residing at Mt. Gerizim/Bethel(cf. 2Kgs 17:27-29).]However, what the Evangelist wants to convey to us is the willingness of the Samaritan to return to thank the Lord and how Jesus was pleased by it. Verse 16 says: “He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him”. The Jews in Samaria had forgotten Yahweh their God and had given themselves into idol worship and were punished. Now, this gesture of the Samaritan could be seen as an act of real worship which was lost in the lives of the earlier inhabitants of Samaria, viz., the Jews, before the destruction of the Northern Kingdom.
Even after more than 750 years of stubbornness from the part of the inhabitants of Samaria who created high places for ‘false worship’ (2Kgs 17:29), the loving Lord mercifully awaits the return of this lost child. Jesus is overjoyed bythe Samaritan’spromptness to worship him. He is welcomed and healed. He is restored and treated with dignity. Samaritans werealso lost children, stubborn in their sinfulness. Now, a Samaritan is worshipping and thanking Jesus the Lord. The restored faith of this foreigner was appreciated by Jesus. It is never too late to return to the Lord, to fall into his embracing arms.
True worship, revealed in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, as found in John, is not done on mountains but “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23). This teaching is meant for every future believer. True worship takes place in the heart and not in man-made sanctuaries. A faith rooted in the heart leads the believer to worship. It is now a reality as the leper prostrates himself before Jesus who makes him whole once again. Jesus welcomes every return, and is all the more pleased with a heart that praises him. Faith leads to true worship. Without true faith, you can’t encounter the Lord. Jesus says: “your faith has made you well”. A faithful heart is a grateful heart.A stubborn heart will not fall prostrate, but rather, a humble and believing heart. Faith in our Lord is the key to every remedy. He continues to invite each one of us to worship him, who is spirit and truth.