Danger on the Borderline
Gospel for Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016
By Glen Argan
On the face of it, Jesus’ healing of the 10 lepers (Lk 17.11-19) is a great Gospel for Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend. Jesus is walking to Jerusalem. He encounters some lepers and sends them to see the priests. On the way, all 10 see they are healed of leprosy, but only one returns to thank Jesus. Jesus tells the leper, a Samaritan, that his faith has made him well.
The moral of the story: We should be grateful to God for the good things in our lives as was the Samaritan leper.
Nothing is wrong with this interpretation. However, it misses the dissonant notes Luke includes in this story, a story unique to his Gospel.
The story is set as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Border country is often a dangerous place to travel. Because of the deep animosity between Jews and Samaritans, danger could be expected.
Luke, it would seem, wants to say the road to the holy city passes through dangerous country, a region where the unreconciled live in tension. We may want to see this journey to Jerusalem, a journey to God, as a walk of pure gentleness, peace and kindness. However, our journey to God is not like that.
Think of your own life. What brought you closer to God? For many, turmoil, rejection and loss increase their trust in God. They raise one to a higher level of spiritual maturity.
On the borderline in Sunday’s Gospel stand 10 lepers shouting, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Already, something is off kilter. Lepers were supposed to shout alright; they were to warn off passersby (Lev 13.45-46), but not call people to help them.
Mercy! What did they mean by that? Perhaps they did recognize Jesus as “Master” and knew that he could heal them. Maybe they believed the common bromide that their illness was the result of their sins and that Jesus could forgive those sins.
In any event, Jesus does not heal them on the spot, but sends them off to the priests, who would no doubt be thrown into a tizzy by the sight of 10 lepers walking straight at them.
On the way, they are healed, but only the Samaritan returns to praise God for his healing – the scumbag Samaritan who is an outcast twice over, once for his ethnicity and once for his leprosy.
Jesus walked on the borderline and this is what he got – praise from the lowliest of the low. If his Jewish compatriots had heard this story, they would have rejected Jesus too. However, through unusual encounters on the borderline, God’s kingdom comes into our midst.
The moral: To follow Jesus, get off the main road and walk amidst the outcasts.
[Other questions: How does this story relate to what immediately follows it in Luke’s Gospel – a meeting with the Pharisees (17.20-21)? How does it relate to what comes before – Jesus’ lauding of faith the size of “a grain of mustard seed (17.6)?]
[Sunday’s other readings: 2 Kings 5.14-17; Psalm 98.1-4; 2 Timothy 2.8-13]