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"Saving faith"


28 August 2005 11:00 | Fr John Cullen

NT: Galatians 5.16-24; Gospel: Luke 17.11-19 (Pr 23, YrC)

Did you pick up the apparent flaw in that account of the healing of the 10 lepers in this morning's Gospel we have just heard?

At the end of the account, Jesus says to the Samaritan who has been healed of his leprosy, "Go thy way, thy faith had made thee whole." What could he possibly mean? Weren't the other 9 lepers - who hadn't come back to say 'thank you' - also healed? Why does Jesus single out the Samaritan for being healed by his faith? Furthermore, weren't they all healed together, before the Samaritan had returned to express his gratitude? And when all said and done, the other 9, now well on their way to Jerusalem to show themselves to the priests, were only doing what Jesus had instructed them to do.

As I have often suggested, we depreciate the Gospels if we regard them simply as collections of wholesome moralistic stories requiring our emulation of good behaviour - in this case, for instance, to follow the respectful practice of always saying 'thank you'! There's obviously more in this story than that…. As always in the NT, words are significant. In relating this incident, the Gospel writer uses three different words for 'healed'. In the body of the story the two words he uses mean 'cured', as in medical or physical healing.

But at the end of the story, when he sends the Samaritan on his way, what Jesus really says is: "Your faith has saved you". What the Gospel writer would have us ponder is, while all 10 were healed of their dreaded disease, what happened to the Samaritan, in addition to his healing, that resulted in his outburst of praise to God, and his rushing back to fall down in gratitude at Jesus' feet, and resulted in his being saved?

Here we are also to note, as Jesus' original audience would have noted, that the one who returns is not, as one might expect, a pious God-fearing Jew. He is a despised Samaritan; one whose faith the ordinary Jew regarded as both deficient and defective. This tenth leper had realised that it wasn't just his skin which was healed by his encounter with Jesus; something else had happened - in his soul. He knew that within the Jewish society in which he lived, there was no way he could be good enough, he would never be accepted or acceptable - even by the other 9 alongside whom he had been healed. But none of that mattered any more.

Regardless of what anyone thought of him, the Samaritan realised that his humanity had been restored that day. He had been healed at a deeper level: he was now at one with God - against all expectations. That was truly something to be thankful for. The priests could wait. This demanded an immediate response - to God first, and then to God's agent, the rabbi-healer who had broken through the barriers of reticence and religious prohibition to come near him. Luke is reminding us that Jesus does not just overturn the tables of money-lenders going about their business in the temple.

Jesus once again overturns our expectations, our attitudes, and sometimes our inherited values. This is not simply a story to encourage us to observe the common courtesy of saying 'thank you'. It confronts us with the uncomfortable message - · of an outsider whose unrestrained gratitude reveals the essence of faith,
· and even more uncomfortably, of an outsider who subverts our expectation of who the real insiders might be.

In holding up this odious alien as a model of faith, Jesus shows that he is much more outrageous than I could ever be!
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