The story of the ten leaping lepers- I’m sure that’s the start of a Christmas Carol “Ten lepers leaping, nine something’s doing something else that rhymes.” Not to pour cold water on this musical vision, but the first thing to note about this story is that the poor diseased souls were almost certainly not afflicted with Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) as it was very rare in first century Palestine. They did though obviously have some very unpleasant malady for which they were healed. Ten were healed, one came back and said thanks – always remember to be grateful and say thanks. That’s about where many sermons leave this story, “remember to say please and thank you.” Whilst I am the last to dismiss good manners, I think there may be a teensy bit more to wring from this story of miraculous healing.
Are there any significant markers in this story that we should be taking notice of? If something is worth saying, say it more than once. We are told at the very start that Jesus was walking between Samaria and Galilee- this was the land of the Samaritans. In case we missed it, the writer openly declares it in verse 16 “Now he was a Samaritan.” Why is this significant? Just like a wonderful Shakespearian play, every story needs its downtrodden, its lowliest of the low, and for Luke, this part is played by Samaritans and lepers. He uses them a couple of times in the Gospel – in the good Samaritan in Luke 10:28-38 (because generally Samaritans weren’t good??) and the healed leper in Luke 5:7-17. Today’s story is the third time this scenario is played out – a doubly destitute Samaritan leper is pleading for help. Make no mistake, this is not all just lucky happen-stance, this is a very deliberate story with deliberate characters telling a very important message regarding the reign of God.
So what are we being told. If I can be so bold, I would argue that we are hearing the in the reign of God the way we currently see the world will be turned on its head. Our normal vestiges of power like money, health and property will be of no importance, and the poor, sick and homeless will be on top of the food chain. This is also the story we recently looked at in Lazarus and the rich man. Here again we have a story of the lowest of the low being the receiver of God’s good favour. But there are some subtleties at the end of the reading that can easily be missed in a casual reading.
Firstly, the one ex-leper that returns and praises God, not Jesus. Jesus makes this even more obvious in saying “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” The leper knew from where his healing came, and returned to give praise to that healer- God. This is quite an insight. The lepers come to Jesus asking for healing, Jesus tells them what to do to be healed, and the one that returns makes the jump from Jesus to God. This would have been a shock to the readers of Luke, that on e of the despised and rejected had such a firm grasp of the situation from a religious standpoint. At the start of this blog I noted that if something is worth saying, say it twice- well here we have another example of saying it again. Jesus Tells the leper, and those listening on, that his faith has made him well. This was sacrilege- to suggest that a Samaritan leper had faith enough to make himself well. Those listening in must have scratched their heads in wonder and consternation. Here was the lowest of the low having more faith than them. They couldn’t make themselves or anyone else well, but here is Jesus proclaiming this leper has the power of healing.
In the reign of God, the first will be last and the last will be first. Samaritans and lepers will have faith to lead people and heal. The story is a powerful reminder that Jesus can be found in the most unlikely people and in the most unlikely places. I’m reminded of the “Rabbi’s Gift”, of a secret given to an old Abbot that the messiah was one of them. You can click here to read it. Ancient Sumaria is modern day Palestine. It’s an interesting thought to ponder Jesus being a Palestinian, or that homeless person you passed by on the street this last week. Maybe we should treat everyone with respect and dignity, just in case…