Today’s Gospel reminds me of a formal dance in which each of the carefully measured steps suggests a multitude of meanings. There is the setting on the borderland between Galilee and Samaria, along a line separating mutually hostile neighbors. It is also a place where a reconciliation has taken place. A Samaritan has been admitted to a band of nine Jews. The bond of a shared affliction has overcome habits of prejudice and suspicion.
I also note the group’s respect for the law that has banished them from society. They keep their distance from Jesus and his followers. They do not directly ask for a cure. Instead they plead in more general terms: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Does the wording imply doubt about the degree of succor Jesus can offer them? In any case, Jesus meets them on their own terms. He doesn’t bid them come nearer; He doesn’t, as on other occasions reach out and touch the afflicted ones; he doesn’t heal their malady. Instead he advises them to “Go show yourselves to the priests.” Surely this must have sounded like a useless exercise to ten lepers still visibly covered with sores. Jesus’ last words to the Samaritan, “Your faith is your salvation” sound like a rebuke to the faith of the other nine. Yet it must have taken considerable faith to set out just as they were to see the priests? Where was the deficiency?
The answer that suggests itself is that theirs was a faith that ceased to grow. Apparently, once cured, the nine quickly returned to their former lives, where they were once again acceptable members of society. The fact that they did not even think of returning to thank Jesus makes me think that they shoved the whole experience of physical sickness, social ostracism, friendship with a Samaritan, and a marvelous cure to the back of their minds. Was this history transformative for their future lives? Were they constantly aware that God had done great things for them? It seems that only Samaritan, now once again outcast from the company of his former friends but keenly aware of God’s goodness to him, had a living transformative faith.
Sister Mary O’Brien, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Sisters’ community in Union City. NJ.