We find Jesus today headed in the direction of Jerusalem going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. From past stories we know that Jews usually avoided any contact with the Samaritan people and would go out of their way rather than pass through their land.
There was a long history of animosity between those living in this area which basically came down to these two differences. For Samaritans, their most holy place was at their temple on Mt. Gerizim and of course, the Jewish temple was located in Jerusalem and there were also different interpretations of the cleanliness laws.
So we find Jesus in between these two distinctly different cultures. Why was Jesus there? The text gives no explanation so we don't know. As far as we can determine Jesus had no particular purpose for being in this place at this time, traveling alone.
As soon as Jesus entered this village he was approached by ten lepers crying out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on me." Somehow they knew him, they called him Master. Even from a distance they saw him as someone who would be able to help them. But Jesus might have ignored their desperate pleading and continued on his way, and they couldn't come any closer to him.
As lepers they were not allowed to touch others, they could not even come close to others, yet Jesus saw them. He stopped, he looked directly at them, he spoke to them. He immediately would have recognized that these ten men had lived in isolation, as outcasts, without family, friends or community, in a hopeless no man's land. To live with leprosy was to live in exile.
He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." According to the law, a priest had to certify that a person was clean before they could return to the community. Amazingly before they even saw a priest they were made clean. In that moment their lives were changed, there health was restored, they were healed and made well. They could finally turn their backs on that waste land, that desperate place of the unclean. Of course they were overjoyed at finally being able to look forward to a new life, a normal life. Of course they would have run home to greet their families with the good news.
However, one of the ten, only one, turned back to praise God for this miracle, he threw himself down at Jesus feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. "But wait", said Jesus, "were not ten made clean?" "Where are the other nine?" "Were none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" "Get up and go on your way--your faith has made you well."
We can speculate endlessly about those nine men. Were they so completely caught up in there own joy and excitement in their recovery that they couldn't spare a minute to express gratitude in Jesus priceless gift to them? Or might they have become so bitter, so demoralized through those years of isolation that they had lost the ability to feel or express thankfulness? Or were they so overcome by the healing that they failed to see God's hand in this life changing event?
The act of seeing plays an important role in this story. First Jesus "sees" the lepers. Then the one leper "sees" that he has been healed. This act of "seeing" would not be as a passing glance, it denotes an act of deep recognition. Jesus fully understands the pain and suffering of these ten men, he sees with compassion, he knows the deep sorrow they have endured. Only the one leper when he "saw he was healed not only saw that his diseased skin was smooth and clean, but realized that God was present in that moment, that God had acted through Jesus to make him whole.
Well now, how about you and me, how does this story challenge us? What do we "see" and what do we "do" when we see? First, when we do see, do we truly recognize the need of others? Sometimes persons in need simply don't catch our attention. We may go through the day with our private concerns for family and closest friends, inattentive to the loneliness and struggles of the persons we pass by on our streets. The leper's seeing involved recognition of God's saving grace. Ten men were healed but only one recognized the healing for what it was, a sign of God's love.
So, what do you do when you see? Jesus saw need and acted to meet it. When the leper saw healing, he didn't see only a new Ijfe for himself, he returned and praised God, falling on his face before Jesus. It has been said, "Gratitude may be the purest measure of one's character and spiritual condition.” The absence of the ability to be grateful reveals self-centeredness or the attitude that I deserve more than I ever get, so why should I be grateful?
Did it take a Samaritan, an outcast, to recognize grace for what it was? The grateful person regards other's acts of kindness with heartfelt gratitude. It's about seeing those acts of kindness and responding with genuine thankfulness.
When our children were still at home they were always expected to write thank you notes for gifts received through the mail. Oh what a task that was with many sighs and pleadings of "do I have to?" They were off the hook if they had an opportunity to offer a face to face thank you. I hoped the recipient would appreciate the effort that went into those handwritten or printed notes. I sent out a few graduation cards and gifts this past spring and was delighted to receive a thank you for each one. They all varied in the length of the message from four words, "Thank you for everything." to several sentences that filled the inside space of the card. No matter how many or few the words I appreciated their response.
Upon receiving no response, no thank you from the other men, Jesus expresses his sadness and disappointment. "Were not ten made clean, where are the other nine, could not one of them turn back and thank God?" Remember, all ten lepers got what they wanted but one received more than he had ever hoped for.
How often do we cry out to God with our many petitions and intercessions, then forget the words of gratitude and thanks? Perhaps, then, our challenge for this week could be to intentionally see the many God given graces in our lives and pray the thanksgivings to our Lord. May we also truly "see" the needs of others and "do" acts of kindness and generosity as each is able. AMEN