A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

And then there were nine…

Luke in his Gospel has Jesus “on the road” to Jerusalem where he will experience a passion, death, and resurrection, as the basis of our salvation.  Stops along the journey are contexts where Jesus teaches his followers items of significance.  This particular journey stop is about gratitude.  (Luke 17: 11-19).

When Jesus enters a certain village, ten lepers cry out from a distance, “Jesus, Master!  Have pity on us.”  As is his custom, Jesus responds to those affllicted.  He says, in accordance with the Mosaic law, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”  As they are on their way, they are cleansed from their disease.  It turns out that Jesus has performed a miracle.

Curiously, only one of the ten healed lepers returned to give thanks to Jesus for the miracle.  The other nine took it for granted that the famous Jesus would heal them which he did.  They thought this healing was due to them for being fellow Jews.  It tutned out to be a moment when Jesus would continue the pattern of contrasts (lepers/non lepers; Jews/Samaritan; gratitude/ ingratitude) by concentrating on the gratitude/ingratitude contrast.

The person giving thanks was a Samaritan, a non Jew.  Jews and Samaritans did not get along well with each other.  Consequently, the gratitude/ ingratitude contrast was made all the more obvious.  You can almost see Jesus asking disappointedly, “Ten were cleansed were they not?  Where are the other nine?”  If ingratitude had teeth, a big bite would have been taken out of Jesus at that moment.  It was a Samaritan, not a Jew, who gave thanks.

Finally, Jesus turned to the Samaritan and said, “Stand up and go.  Your faith has saved you.”  What kind of faith did the Samaritan have that merited his salvation?  After the miracle of healing, many translations have, “And one of them, realizing that he had been cleaned returned….”  The word translated as “realizing,” in the Greek is odwn, which means “seeing.”  So what the text actually says is, “One of them,” seeing” that he had been cleaned returned….”  

We look at the word “seeing” and note its twofold interpretation, namely, seeing visually (the fact that the Samaritan was cleansed from leprosy), and seeing spiritually (conversion from ingratitude to gratitude).  Consequently, the FAITH  of the Samaritan which merited him salvation was the gratitude he acknowledged that Jesus was primarily responsible for all that happened to him–both good and bad.  Bad things allow us to appreciate the good things.

What can we learn from the above Gospel reading?   First, we are all sinners, much like spiritual lepers, who often cry to Jesus to have mercy.  This we do at the Confiteor at Mass and through the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).  Second, we would do well to pray for the spiritual vision of conversion so that we can SEE the works of  Jesus in our lives. Thirdly, Be thankful for all that we receive–good things and bad things.    

Recognizing our sinfulness, seeing Jesus/God at work in our lives, and being grateful for what we receive will help be more hopeful and effective Christians.  Though the feast of Thanksgiving comes but once a year, it can come every day for the believer.




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