Seeing the world through a theological lens...
Luke 17: 11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Ah, the power of the 'thank you note.'
Some of us are so good at it; upon receipt of a gift or directly following a dinner party, we open up a box of smaller than average cards (which of course, we already have), and handwrite thoughts of gratitude to the giver. In the note, we are sure to mention the details of the gift; not just a generic "thank you for your generosity." We write why we appreciated it, and express how much it meant so much to us to be remembered. Then, we send them out quickly (of course we have stamps!) to insure a timely delivery.
Others of us... well... It's not that we aren't grateful. It's not that we don't mean to get around to sending thanks, or saying thanks... its just that we... (you can fill in the blank: aren't organized, don't have supplies, haven't been taught about a thank you note, think thank you notes are outdated, are protesting the post office, forget to send one, got distracted by a situation in your life that's begging for your attention, etc. etc.).
In this passage, Jesus is traveling between Samaria and Galilee. We know about Samaritans, especially in the Gospel of Luke. Jews and Samaritans don't mix. They don't talk. They don't have dinner parties together, and don't give gifts to one another. We know about the negative reaction of the crowd when Jesus had made a Samaritan the hero of a parable.; the shock and surprise than anyone from Samaria would end up to be the neighbor... the "good guy."
So when Jesus heals ten lepers, and it is the Samaritan who is the only one to remember to send a thank you, I can imagine that those around Jesus must have had their feathers ruffled. It happens to us every time we come face to face with one of our prejudices, or when our stereotypes for people don't ring true. When we are forced to rethink we believe to be true of 'them.'
Yet, if it were as easy as that, if being proven wrong about those we've categorized and compartmentalized and demonized is all it took to for us to change our minds and soften our hearts, the world would not be struggling as it is.
How do I know? Because we get "proven wrong" about our beliefs about people all the time. One of "them" does something outside the lines of the circle we've drawn around them, and we are amazed. And for a moment we might question our prejudice.
More often however, that person becomes "an exception." We may even give that person admiration for pulling themselves away from the rest of the pack. We might begin using them as an example for our own benefit and power, and in order to keep the rest of that group marginalized and oppressed.
Jesus has healed ten. He has healed all. He didn't stop to ask where they were from. There was no differentiation between them, as a matter of fact, we don't know how many of the ten were actually from Samaria. Luke doesn't tell us that.
We do know that most of them took the gift of healing that was given them and skipped away with it; grateful, happy, healed. I'm sure they would have said thank you had they thought of it. I'm sure they told others what happened to them. I'm sure they showed the priest, as Jesus requested and maybe thanked God right there in the sanctuary. I'm sure they were so excited to be restored to community life and health that their thoughts were in a thousand places.
Their futures went from dark to bright. I can't blame them for being so excited that they got swept away and forgot to come back to say thank you. I'm sure that later on, when the moment had passed, they thanked God in their prayers and praised God with their lives.
Sometimes It happens that way. God has given all of us miraculous gifts; heals our leprocy (what keeps us separate from the rest of the community), comforts us in our pain, points us toward renewal, gives us even the gift of breath.
Sometimes we remember to go back and say 'thank you' for some of it, when/if we take notice. Sometimes we are too focused on other things to give these miraculous gifts much mind. Sometimes, we worry about what the priest might say of our healing, or our concern goes from being made well to looking for a job, or keeping our kids out of trouble, or any one of a hundred other situations begging for our attention.
Being healed of leprocy doesn't take away every problem of our lives. So though we may be grateful, for the most part we skip away on our own, either oblivious to the gifts we've been afforded, or moving on to the next big thing life throws at us.
If you notice, Jesus doesn't condemn them for it either. Jesus knew and understood the other nine, just as he knows us and our desires and failures to do the right thing 100% of the time. But since Jesus is all about healing, he simply asks the crowd, "where are the other nine?" And points out for the benefit of his listeners that the one who came back to praise God was a "foreigner." The crowd needed and was offered the bigger healing.
I wonder what bigger healing is offered us today? What "them" are we being asked to see differently? Who should we be loving differently? And perhaps, stop today and send a thank you to the one who gives us everything we need.