I would guess that most homilies on Sunday’s Gospel of the healing of the ten lepers (Luke 17: 11-19) focused on the lack of gratitude of the nine lepers who did not return to thank Jesus.
Thanksgiving is a critical issue, especially in societies that promote, ever so subtly, what a priest friend of mine called “entitlement spirituality.”
But I have thought for some years that there are aspects of the story that are overlooked. The lepers are marginalized; they were treated as outcasts and sinners. They were not accepted by society.
But the leper who returned was doubly marginalized: he was a Samaritan. The Judeans of those days looked down on the Samaritans as heretics, as outside the Law.
But somehow the Samaritan leper had found some community with the other lepers. They had established a sort of alternative society – on the basis of their alienation from “normal” society.
Jesus sends the lepers to go to the priests to be reincorporated into the society. But the Samaritan would not have been accepted by the priest. He had no way to prove that he was cleansed. He experienced anew an alienation, a separation from the rest.
And so he returned to Jesus, to give him thanks. My guess is that he was also hoping to be reincorporated into a society that he saw as healthy, that did not make distinctions.
Monday morning on the place back to Honduras I opened Hugo Echegaray’s La Práctica de Jesús. In his preface to this posthumously published work, Gustavo Gutiérrez quotes from an essay by Echegaray on the leper:
In this perspective, the health of each one depends on the liberty of the people, as well as on the quality of the relationships among its members which create values of solidarity, a deep communion with regard to their historic destiny and their faith. No one can consider oneself healthy alone, independent of the rest or of the fact that one subsists in the middle of a “sick” society.
The leper could not have been accepted into the sick society of religious observances that denied his dignity. The religious society accepted the other lepers because they were now “clean,” but he would never be accepted by that society. I wonder: Did the other lepers refuse to accept him, after he was healed?
And so he returned to Jesus, knowing that in Jesus there is the promise of a Kingdom where Gentile and Jew, Samaritan and Jew, lepers and the healthy could live together.
All types of marginalization fall apart in the presence of Jesus and in His Kingdom.
And so when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” we are praying for an end to marginalization.