It is important to keep in mind that Luke’s Gospel was basically geographically oriented. Jesus was eventually going to wind up in Jerusalem. Why Jerusalem? It was the big “city,” and whatever significant thing was going to happen, it would happen in Jerusalem. The Jewish leadership was there. The Temple was there. Jesus would complete his personal ministry there in order to complete his task of salvation for humanity.
So, most of the stops on the way to Jerusalem were quite likely opportunities for others to learn about “Christian” discipleship. The Gospel for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 17:11-19) is quite likely one of these stops. It begins with “As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem….”
As Jesus entered the village, he was met by ten lepers, who almost in unison cried out “Jesus Master, have pity on us.” Jesus told them, according to Mosaic Law, “Go, present yourselves to the priests.” On their way, they were cured. Of the ten who were miraculously cured only ONE returned to give thanks to Jesus. And the Gospel was quick to point out: “He was a Samaritan.”
Why the ethnic distinction? The Jews and the Samaritans were of different religions and were suspicious of one another. (Cf. Luke 9:51-56). Yet Samaritans played positive roles in Jesus’ discourse, for example the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:29-37) It seems to me that when Jesus brings in an “outsider” who does the proper thing, the lesson is longer lasting. Here the lesson is GRATITUDE. Jesus sardonically asks the Samaritan, “Ten were cleansed were they not? Where are the other nine?”
What are we to learn from this Gospel reading? One of the things we can learn is how to pray. The lepers approach Jesus and shout, “Jesus, have mercy on us.” They were asking for a healing. This means that their prayer was one of PETITION. Jesus heard their petition and cured them.
However, it was a healed Samaritan (the “outsider”) who returned and came to THANK Jesus for what he had done. Somewhat ironically Jesus in reply points out, “Were not ten made clean? Where are the missing nine? Has it been only this outsider to come back and thank me for the gift of healing?”
It seems to me that saying “Thank you” in prayer is more important than saying, “Please give me this or that.” Gratitude appears to be a bit more important than petition because gratitude actually makes us more dependent on the Lord than we thought. If there is no gratitude, there can hardly be a successful petition.
At the end, Jesus told the Samaritan (the outsider), “Your faith has saved you.” The Samaritan believed in the power of Jesus. So much so that he returned, soon after realizing that he had received a blessing. May we, as “outsiders” (sinners) thank God for all of our blessings, great or small, so that that we can be as one in many who return to Jesus to say “thank you.” Our faith in the power of Jesus tells us that it is true.