28th Sunday Year C – Lectio divina on Lk 17,11-19
The healing of the ten lepers was, without any doubt, a success moment in the life of Jesus. One day Jesus decided to pass through a village on his way to Jerusalem. By chance he came across a group of sick people. It was not his intention to meet them. He did not go in search of them. But he still did not refuse to meet their needs when they begged him to have pity on them. He did not look for them but neither did he avoid them. A leper was a person to be avoided and so they were not expected to come back to thank someone who cured them. These lepers had come to him because they were in a state of extreme need, but they did not return when they were freed from their terrible disease. Their gratuitous healing did not make them grateful. They did not even believe that they were healed. But there was one exception, a Samaritan, a foreigner, the one we would least expect to come back. He was cured. He worshipped God and thanked Jesus, and he was the only one who was saved. His meeting with Jesus brought him salvation because of his faith, which was expressed in prayer and thanks.
The memory of this episode today may help us to review our relationship with God and ask ourselves why we do not return to thank God when we receive what we ask for. When we are freed from our troubles and our needs are met, we feel we do not need God, and we feel no need to return to thank him. We turn to God when we need him, and then when our prayer is heard, we forget about God. We fail to thank him. Because we do not take time to thank God, we risk losing our faith and our salvation… just like those ungrateful lepers.
11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, paying attention to how it says it
Luke reports a casual event that happened during the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. He uses it to include a teaching on salvation and how to achieve it. The initiative did not start with Jesus. His stated objective was to get to Jerusalem (Luke 17:11). He is the main character in the story. His word dominates the scene.
The episode is in two scenes. The first narrates the healing with extreme brevity (Luke 17.12-14). At the entrance of a village between Samaria and Galilee, some lepers approach Jesus. Their illness is terrible because of the affect on their appearance and because it is highly contagious. It was seen as a curse from God. It meant total social and religious exclusion. The lepers try to capture the attention of Jesus with shouts and gestures (Lk 17:13). They do not ask for healing. They are simply looking for compassion from a rabbi who happens to be passing through their village. Even though they were not yet healed, Jesus tells them to do what the law orders, that is, to present themselves to the priests and ask to be readmitted to the community. The priests are to witness to the fact that they have been healed (Luke 14.1-4). The lepers obey Jesus and start walking away as if they were already healed. They will be, before they come before the priests. They were healed while they were on the way, after they obeyed, trusting the words of Jesus. Jesus did not heal them immediately. He needed their obedience to cure them. However, it was not the law that healed them, but the word spoken by Jesus.
The second scene concentrates on only one of the lepers, the one who came back to Jesus when he saw that he was healed (Luke 17.15-19). Luke mentions that he was a Samaritan. The stranger, the one who was despised by all, is presented as the authentic and unique model of faith. The others did not come back because, once they met the conditions laid down by the law, they were restored to normal family life and work. They were all healed but only one was saved. He came back to worship God and thank his healer. This second meeting alone with Jesus gave him something he would not lose – his salvation.
Then Jesus declared that it was his faith that made him decide to come back to give glory to God and thank him. Ten lepers asked Jesus for compassion and obtained healing. Only one of them obtained salvation, the one who had enough faith to come back to thank Jesus and worship God. The Samaritan was the only one who regained his health, and found God.
II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life
The story tells of a specific journey of faith that only one man was able to finish, and he was a Samaritan, a foreigner. Heading toward Jerusalem, Jesus passed through a village. This time he was not going in search of listeners for his gospel or sick people to care. But he did not refuse people who implored his help. Even though he was busy, he allowed himself to be moved by those who needed help. He was going towards his passion, but he felt compassion for those who were suffering. It is impossible for someone who is filled with passion for God and wants to do God’s will at any price, to see others suffering and pass by without showing pity.
It may be that we fail understand the drama of this group of lepers and their need of healing. For us today, leprosy is a disease that has been defeated by science, and so it is not so easy for us to understand the misfortune of those who contracted the disease. In the time of Jesus, anyone who contracted a skin disease was considered a leper. These were, for the most part, incurable and degenerative diseases. The external disfigurement instilled terror and those who could not hide it were expelled from society, and abandoned even by their families. Lepers lived in groups to defend themselves from hunger and infirmity. Because it was highly contagious, they rarely received help or sympathy from the people. The cry with which they welcomed Jesus was sincere – “Master have pity on us.”
This group of lepers had to suffer a lot before they had the courage to cry out to Jesus for mercy. They had nobody to share their misery with, nobody from whom they could hope for sympathy and understanding. It was easy enough on that occasion to attract the attention of anyone who happened to be passing by, and so they shouted out their plea for mercy from a distance. It is noteworthy that they did not ask Jesus for healing, but only for a little compassion. Surprisingly, Jesus did not offer them a word of encouragement. He did not approach them but he proved his compassion by responding with an order: go and show yourselves to the priests.
And while they obeyed, as they were on their way, they found themselves cured. The lepers knew that only the priests could declare them healed, but they undertook the journey, as if they were already healed. They trusted the words of Jesus. His compassion was shown by a specific order that led to healing that they had not sought, and the healing occurred while the order was still being carried out.
Jesus healed them, not only because he had compassion on them on account of their suffering, but because they obeyed his words. It was not enough to feel sick and in need of understanding – they had to do His will. They were so desperate that they called out for help from those who passed by, but they were healed because they obeyed without hesitation. They were healed when they were on their way.
They would have to be really naive to fulfil the law – showing themselves to the priests – when they had no obligation to do so, other than the fact that Jesus told them to do so. It was not therefore the fulfilment of the law, but their blind obedience to Jesus, that healed them while they were on the way, and restored them to their families. Is there anyone among us who already feels well, who is not suffering from loneliness, who is not in need of compassion, and does not have reason to cry out to Jesus and put our trust in him? If our most repugnant ills, physical and moral, can lead us to our Saviour, why do we feel bad about them? In that village where Jesus happened to be passing by, the only people to benefit from it were those who were ill and were cursed because of their illness.
And why do we fail to arouse pity and compassion in Jesus? Is it because we do not ask? What kind of weakness – external or internal – do we have to experience before we come to rely on the power of our Master? Could it be that we do not feel sufficiently alone with our problems and our powerlessness for Jesus to have compassion on us whenever he happens to pass by? The truth is, we do not have enough faith, the kind of faith that comes from the awareness that we can obtain from God anything we need to be saved from our weakness.
But above all, we are not obedient enough to go where God sends us without waiting to know if we are completely cured. We should not forget, the lepers were cured not just out of compassion. They had to go in search of the priest. Instead of healing us, God sometimes does not allow us to come closer to Him, but sends us away, so that we can be healed unexpectedly together with others.
How often have we thought that God does not care about us, just because, like the ten lepers, instead of a gesture of compassion we receive a blunt order? We need to learn from the ten lepers that only obedience to God, who sends us wherever he wants, can free us from our evils. Slowly we will come to see how God wants to show compassion for us, but only if we do what he commands us. The lepers were not cured by medicine, nor even by a personal gesture of Jesus. He spoke to them from a distance, and they found themselves completely healed. They were healed by the same words that Jesus speaks to us today. If we continue in our illness, it will be our own fault. All we need to do to recover our health is to obey him and go wherever he sends us, and then, along with others, we will be cured of the evils that afflict us.
All ten obeyed the master and all ten were healed while they were on their way to the priest. Their common need led them to meet Jesus. They followed his instructions, and they all they received the same gift, the same complete healing. But only one returns to thank Jesus for the healing and he was the only one who was cured inside. He alone, a stranger, come back to thank Jesus, and that made him worthy of further healing which was less visible. Jesus sent back into society the men who did not show gratitude. But because they were unable to do what they should have done, they missed out on the most important thing. Giving thanks publicly for the gifts received from God is the kind of faith that heals the heart and not just the skin. Strangers are more grateful, because they have less hope for the gifts they receive from God. Those who show gratitude will be cured of even greater ills.
The seriously ill seek healing in many ways but only a few are grateful for their healing and acknowledge the good that has been done to them. Ten were cured but only one was saved and, according to Jesus, he was saved by the faith he showed. All the Samaritan did, in fact, was to acknowledge that he was healed, and to praise God and thank Jesus. He proved his gratitude by coming back, not to ask for mercy and healing, but to give praise and thanks to his benefactors. Jesus interprets his gratitude as an act of faith that saves.
It is not uncommon, yet Jesus seems to be surprised when he asks, how is it that those who are less deserving of God’s gifts, show more appreciation. They are more appreciative than those who think they have a right to be healed, and take it for granted that they will be healed. Their faith is deemed better, not because they have less expectation of God’s saving power, but because they show more gratitude in recognizing God’s gifts. Those who come to God only to ask will soon lose their desire to come to him. We worship God less if we do not come to him in gratitude. Those who acknowledge the gifts received – be they big or small – will grow in faith without too much effort. The conversion that we need most is not the healing of our evils, but that of coming back to thank God for what he gives us. God shows his goodness to those who show gratitude. If we do not want God’s action in our lives, then we can remain superficial, but if we really desire that God enter deeply into our lives, then we must come back to thank him for all that he has done for us. Our faith, demonstrated by our acts of thanksgiving, will save us. The more we need from God, the more grateful we should be.