More to it than meets the eye

Pentecost 21 – 2016

Luke 17:11-19

Marian Free


In the name of God who opens our eyes to a world that could be. Amen.

Today through the internet, mobile phones, social media we have access to world events 24/7. On many occasions we learn of events as they take place and not after the journalists have had time to write and file their reports. It is possible to see earthquakes almost at the same time as they are happening, videos of the shooting of black men in America come to our phones in vivid detail, as do the effect of violence against rioters in Egypt and in other places that are experiencing civil unrest. Even without our tablets and phones, our newspapers and television stations are able to give us details on Hurricanes almost as they happen. We appear to know more than we have ever known but at the same time because we only receive “sound-bites” on our devices or even in the regular media, we really only ever know what other people tell us, what they want us to see and hear and very often our understanding is determined by the way the information is interpreted, rather than hearing both sides in a dispassionate way and being allowed to form our own opinions.

Newspapers have to sell, TV stations need to attract viewers so as often as not it is the more sensational news that reaches us. What we see and hear is always selected for us and few of us go to the trouble of looking further to discover the background to the story, what led up to the events that are being reported, what really took place and who, if anyone really is to blame.

So often we see only what we want to see. We pass judgement before we have all the facts at our disposal and we form opinions on what other – sometimes biased – people tell us. Too many times we fail to look beyond the obvious, contenting ourselves with the superficial – not willing or not interested enough to look deeper.

The same, dare I say it, is as true of the way we sometimes approach the bible. Take this morning’s gospel for example. I am sure that you, like I, hear the account of Jesus’ healing the ten lepers and think to ourselves: “We know what this is about. It is about gratitude. In particular it is about the ingratitude of the nine who were Jews and the gratitude of the tenth – the outsider.” That is all well and good, and there is no real problem is we are content with that way of seeing and understanding the text. But if we go to the trouble of examining this simple story in more detail we will discover that it has much more to reveal than a superficial reading would have us believe.[1]

For example, were we to place these verses in the context of the whole gospel we would see among other things that this is Luke’s fourth reference to Jesus’ healing of lepers (Luke 4:27, 5:12-14, 7:22). If we were able to do a word search we would discover that Jesus’ final words to the Samaritan “get up and go” are the same words used when Mary “gets up and goes” to Elizabeth and the Prodigal “gets up and goes” home. A careful study of Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ life would reveal that it begins and ends with people glorifying Jesus (2:20 – the shepherds, 23:47 – the centurion). In fact, we would discover so much about the text that we would see it in a completely new and more sophisticated light.

Comparing the story to the account of the healing of Namaan the Syrian,

Dennis Hamm SJ suggests that this is not so much a story about healing and thankfulness, as it is about “discerning the presence of God”[2]. Namaan whose leprosy is healed when he deigns to dip in the insignificant waters of the Jordan comes to realise that the God of Israel is the God of all the world. His eyes are opened to a new and radically different truth[3].

In today’s gospel we are told that Jesus is “along the borders of Samaria and Galilee” – a reminder that Jesus meets people at the boundaries but also a geographical clue. When Jesus tells the lepers to present themselves to the priests they must go south – to Jerusalem. Ordered by Jesus, all men set off in a southerly direction. All are healed, but of the ten, it is the Samaritan (Hamm suggests) who is faced with a dilemma. Surely, when Jesus suggests showing himself to the priests he means the Temple in Jerusalem. Here however, the Samaritan will not be welcome. He will face another boundary, one that confines him to the Court of the Gentiles. Should he instead go to Gerizim – the place where the Samaritan priests are and the place that they believe is where God’s presence is mediated?

Here, “along the borders”, in a place of uncertainty, the Samaritan suddenly sees clearly. God is not to be found either in Jerusalem or in Gerizim but in the person of Jesus. He returns to give “thanks” – but this is no ordinary gratitude. The Greek word “euchariston” is the word we used for our Eucharist. In the Greek Bible it is used only for “thanks and praise to God”. The Samaritan has come to the realisation that Jesus is both the place where the sacred is to be found and also the one to whom thanks and praise are to be offered.

Now it all becomes clear. The Samaritan does not receive praise for saying “thank you”, but for his insight into the nature of Jesus and for giving glory to God through the person of Jesus. (“The other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”) The Samaritan, the outsider is not bound by the same traditions and influences of the Jews. This has freed him to see below the surface and to discern that Jesus is no ordinary man, but is in fact God incarnate.

The account of the ten lepers is less about gratitude, than it is about recognising God in unexpected places and in surprising people. Sometimes we only see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear. The tenth leper, the Samaritan challenges us to be open to other possibilities, to look beyond the obvious, to seek out more information and to discover God in people and places we cannot even begin to imagine.


[1] A useful site for getting to know the Sunday readings better it that of the St Louis University


[2] See the website for October 9, or Hamm’s article “”What the Samaritan Sees: The Narrative Christology of Luke 17:11-19.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 56.2 (1994) 273-87.

[3] (He is so taken with this idea that he wants to take home as much of the land of Israel as he possibly can (2 Kings 5:14-17).


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