On his way to Yerushalayim, Yeshua passed along the border country between Samaria and the Galil. 12 As he entered one of the villages, ten men afflicted with leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out, “Yeshua! Rabbi! Have pity on us!” 14 On seeing them, he said, “Go and let the priests examine you!” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, as soon as he noticed that he had been healed, returned shouting praises to God, 16 and fell on his face at Yeshua’s feet to thank him. Now he was from Samaria. 17 Yeshua said, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found coming back to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And to the man from Samaria he said, “Get up, you may go; your trust has saved you.”
Although this blog always tries to get at what Luke means, rather than making deductions about the historicity of his stories, I have chosen at intervals to remind my readers that Luke is not providing what we would call historical facts. Rather, from his point of view he was providing a historical narrative which gave his readers the “full facts” about Jesus, namely the events of his life seen with the insight of believers.
So, in this case, Luke determines the details of the healing very precisely to bring out the full facts.
The geography is important: on his journey to danger in Jerusalem, Jesus travels west between the Galil and Samaria. The people of the Galil were considered a bit wild from an orthodox Jewish perspective, while those of Samaria were seen as traitors and heretics, because above all they did not recognise the primacy of the Jerusalem temple. In this dubious country Jesus meets with lepers, people defined as unclean and kept at a distance from community life.
The distance is important: the lepers keep their distance out of respect for Jesus. Jesus does not immediately abolish this distance by touching them, but rather acknowledges it as a problem to be overcome. His word challenges them to trust that they are healed and to present themselves as the Torah requires, to the priests, so that their cure can be confirmed and they can be restored to Israel, no longer having to remain at a distance. Luke wants the reader to see Jesus’ ministry to those at a distance as gathering the flock of Israel.
“Trust” is important: All of the lepers show trust in Jesus, for they go at his command before any healing has happened. But Luke wants to distinguish between the sort of trust that lets a person receive God’s goodness, and the sort which appreciates the enormity of what has been received and honours its source. Nine lepers trust Jesus as an effective healer; only one trusts him as a channel of God’s goodness. For Luke only this latter sort of faith permits the definitive rescue of a life by God. Indeed, the overflowing gratitude of the Samaritan leper is already a sign of a salvation which he no longer simply receives but in which he actively cooperates with God. This active response to God’s goodness is for Luke the definition of true trust.
The story resonates beyond this specific occasion. Many people find themselves from time to time in the shadowlands of life, where they suffer illness and isolation. Luke wants them to believe that Jesus can meet them there and restore them to life with family and community, especially the community of believers, to which Jesus has entrusted a ministry to the margins. If the church forgets this ministry it forgets its Lord.
In modern societies, the healing of bodies and minds has been entrusted to scientific medical practitioners, who in Scotland at least provide a very effective and sometimes miraculous service. They make God’s goodness effective for their patients, many of whom recognise what they have received and are profoundly grateful. Those who take such care for granted, or worse, as their right, have not yet allowed God to rescue them from the powers that destroy life.
The Greek word forgiving thanks in this passage is eucharistein, the same as was later used to describe the weekly act of thanksgiving and communion of believers: the Eucharist. This is no accident.