On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’
We have a tradition of saying thanks. ‘Thanks be to God’ people commonly say at the end of a conversation. We give thanks for material things mostly or when things work out to our advantage. We have a lot to be thankful for. Realising that health is wealth, we thank God regularly in common conversation for our good health or improving health.
The leper in the story today has little to be thankful for. He suffers from a disease that renders him repugnant to sight and smell, will make him disabled and unwanted and that will eventually kill him. Hansen’s Disease, or similar conditions, though now curable, are still an affliction.
On encountering Jesus, the lepers, standing well off, plead humbly. ‘Jesus, Master, take pity on us’. In reply, Jesus encourages them to put their faith in him and in his instructions to go and show themselves to the priests as proof of their cure. Only faith impressed Jesus and as they accept his promise, they are cured while on their way. They have passed the test of faith. Most of them fail the test of gratitude. The one who returns is not only a former leper but a Samaritan, a foreigner. Jesus commends his gratitude in praising God and tells the man, ‘Your faith has saved you’. To live out our faith, we were told last week, is to fulfil the duties that flow from our professions of faith. One of those duties is to give thanks, to be grateful to the God who sustains us.
Like Namaan, the leper of the Old Testament, and like the lepers of today’s story, we all have our own afflictions. These may not be as devastating or as obvious as leprosy. Jesus invites us into a relationship of faith and trust. He encourages us, sometimes through suffering, as we grow in thanksgiving, in hope and in faith.
We are all in some sense foreigners. We are cast-outs from Paradise, from contentment. We are constantly searching for the waters of healing. It is the waters of baptism that wash away our sins and ultimately heals us. When we call out to Jesus as Master, humbly acknowledging our dependency, our cry is heard. We are called to faith and to all that flows from faith, especially to thanksgiving which we offer frequently in the text of the Mass.
It is our faith that will save us. It will save us from ingratitude, from self-sufficiency and from excessive pride. It will save us from the affliction of sin and death. We do well to remember all that God has done for us, all that we need to give thanks for and who it is that is Lord and Master.