The driver of my taxi into the city confessed it was her first day driving, and asked my suggestion for the best way to my slightly obscure destination. We chatted briefly, and I wished her well in her new job as I left the cab. Two days later, when I needed to go out to the coast and there was no work car available, I rang the taxi company again.
It was the same driver! On this longer journey we introduced ourselves, and talked about life and family; how she came to be driving a taxi; what part of Europe had been home. She was intrigued to learn that I was not only an IT technician, but also a minister. She shared her experience of God in a few simple yet profound words which were instrumental in my return to parish work.
Fata is a Muslim.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. (ἐκαθαρίσθησαν)15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, (ἰάθη) turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? (ἐκαθαρίσθησαν) But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’(σέσωκέν) (Luke 17:1-11)
Ten is a number of completeness. Ten lepers approached Jesus. They kept their distance. That was the rule for lepers. They were unclean, and so separated from God (and people.) In a profound symbolism, the cleansed leper comes near and prostrates himself at Jesus' feet.
Only one leper came back to give thanks. Not only is this one a Samaritan, itself a challenge to the proprietorial religious, but he is one like the lost sheep, and one like the lost coin, of Luke 15. Is this Samaritan Leper like the lost coin without whom the ten coins are incomplete?
In the Greek text the men are all made clean ( ἐκαθαρίσθησαν) in verse 14, and Jesus uses this same word to speak of them in verse 17; "were not ten made clean?"
They see they are healed in verse 15; the word ἰάθη has the sense of being cured or made whole, but a different word is used in verse 19. There the Samaritan's healing (σέσωκέν), has the sense of healing by making whole and even of saving.
True wholeness, saving wholeness, comes from recognising God's presence in Jesus. As Bill Loader says, the Samaritan turned back praising God, but prostrated himself at Jesus' feet.
Giving glory to God, recognising that in Jesus God was in action, focusing on God was what made it appropriate for Jesus to declare the man’s wholeness in a broader sense. True worship is recognising where God is active and, as the following verses in 17:20-21 indicate, acknowledging when the reign of God is in our midst. So the wrong kind of worshipper according to common prejudice is giving the right kind of worship.
Bill concludes his reflection like this:
The story is deliberately subversive. Lepers were not very respectable and Samaritans were despised by many. Suddenly one of them becomes our high priest, as it were, our model of salvation. And those who belong get it wrong. A simple but disturbing story that lives itself out in every generation.
I would say that lepers were feared; have to do with lepers and you could be cut off from God. Samaritans were not only "despised by many," they evoked a level of hatred without which today's reading and the story of the "Good" Samaritan would lose their power. A Samaritan leper was the Muslim of Jesus' time.
Fata's sister also drove a taxi. I was under instructions to ring them direct, not the taxi company! She drove her taxi in post 9/11 Adelaide wearing a hijab, and was equally gentle and holy as Fata. They were the priest who brought me back into the parish.
How much does our despising or fearing others prevent us from being made whole, or even being saved?
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
An online resource I found helpful for this study is:
Bill Loader: First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages from the Lectionary Pentecost 21
I have previously covered this text in Luke 17:11-19 – Want wholeness with that, or just healing? Since I begin fresh with each of these studies, I may even disagree with myself!
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