The attitude of gratitude – 28th Sunday in ordinary time – Luke 17:11-19
Jesus has begun a long road to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) which will end in chapter 19. Somewhere on that route we are told of this encounter with the ten lepers. As he enters a village, they approach him calling out to him “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” but keeping their distance because they are unclean. If they were addressing an ordinary traveler, their cry for mercy might be a simple plea for alms. Here, they know Jesus by name and address him as master, (Greek: epistata)—a person of authority and a term used in every other instance in Luke by the disciples. It is striking that they don’t ask for alms or even ask for healing. Just mercy! Mercy is what you ask for when you face the limits of changing your life.
Jesus immediately sends them to show themselves to the priests to confirm the healing. Priests were responsible for diagnosing leprosy, and the Torah provided specific guidelines for doing so (Leviticus 13:1-44). A diagnosis of leprosy was treated as a death sentence. En route they are made clean and we are told that only one returns to give thanks and he is a Samaritan.
It is quite evident that Luke was unfamiliar with the topography of Palestine. He seems to indicate that Jesus was in a region between Samaria and Galilee when in reality their regions border each other. But then again, the Gospel was not written to communicate biographic details as much as it was meant to be the communication the faith to a people that lived in a post resurrection period.
This border location explains why the lepers include both Jews and Samaritans; a no-man’s” land for those who were socially, religiously, and physically unclean. Under normal circumstances, Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans, but these Jewish and Samaritan lepers are drawn together by their common misery. Leprosy made misery their common denominator, and they joined together in a community of woe.
Verse 14 tells us that “they went, and while still on their way, became clean.” We are also told in verse 15 that one of them, when he SAW that he was healed, turns back. Interestingly, while they had to step out in faith to be healed we notice that while in all the miracle narratives Jesus declares, ‘your faith has healed you’ here in verse 15 there is no indication that such a declaration or confirmation of their obedience to his command has led to a ‘faith healing’, at least not for now. The tenth leper simply observers and sees a healing and turns back praising God.