The Gospel reading for today, November 18, 2020, is Luke 17:11-19. The following is an excerpt from my book Beautiful and Terrible Things and considers why this one leper turned back to Jesus.
In Luke’s Gospel, just before Jesus says that, “in fact, the kingdom of God is among you,” there is a curious story of a group of lepers being healed by Jesus (Luke 17:11-19). These ten lepers saw Jesus, and keeping their distance, they called out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus does not reply by saying “you are healed” or “be well,” but rather curiously, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” He said this because according to biblical Law (Lev. 14), once a person with leprosy has been healed and cleansed, they are supposed to go to the priests for confirmation. But you only go to the priests once you have been healed. Unlike other episodes of healing, Jesus did not say that they were healed, or their sins forgiven, he simply told them to go to the priests. They went.
Luke describes the scene. “And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.” I can’t tell you why the others did not come back and praise God. I suspect it’s because they didn’t realize that it had happened. How many other rabbis might have told them “get the priest to look at it” in hopes that this time the disease might have subsided? The words of Jesus might have seemed perfunctory to them, a brush off. It is impossible to know what they were thinking and why they didn’t notice, but as they walked along the way, the Samaritan did look, and he noticed that he had been healed and he gave glory to God for his healing.
The Samaritan offers us an example of how to live as we walk between two worlds [this world, that includes suffering and dying, and the world to come, when we are raised with Christ and all who have died]. We live in exile moving ever towards that return and restoration that God has promised us in Christ Jesus. But as we walk along this difficult, dark path, do we notice the healing that God has already provided us in our lives? At any point in our life we may feel hurt and alone. Our suffering may seem beyond all comforting. Yet Jesus is always with us, and he suffered as we have suffered so that he can be our comforter and advocate. The cleansing and healing of Jesus’ work in our lives has already begun if we are willing to notice our blessings and give thanks.