Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

The Faith of the Outcast

What fears cause people to cast others out? Why do they have such fears?

Tragedy creates community. But it can also create a common enemy. So can fear and prejudice. We can ban together for the good. But we can unite against others. To isolate them. To cast them out.

We might think we see the real truth. But, ironically, there are times the outcast sees clearer than our passions allow us. Emotion blurs the picture that the distance of the outcast clarifies. Sometimes the outcast has a vision that our prejudice hides.

Jesus encountered such an outcast on his way to Jerusalem.

Popular Translation

11 When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he walked on the border between the Galilee and Samaria. 12-13 As he was about to enter a village, ten men who had leprosy met Jesus. (Leprosy was contagious skin condition. People with leprosy had to live away from anyone else so they wouldn't infect them.) So, the ten stood far away and shouted, "Jesus! Great Teacher! Have mercy on us!"

14 When Jesus saw them, he replied, "Go! Show yourselves to the priests!"

As they left, they were cured. 15 But one of them, seeing he was cured, returned. "Praise God!" the man shouted. 16 Then the man fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan.

17 "Weren't ten people cured?" Jesus said. "Where are the other nine? 18 Didn't any of them return to praise God except this foreigner?" 19 Then, Jesus said to the man, "Stand up. Your faith has saved you."

In Luke, ten lepers did not shrink back from their hope: to be part of the community again. But one of their number had a double burden. He was a leper and a hated ethnic enemy of the Jews, a Samaritan. His extreme isolation helped him see who Jesus really was. And it helped him become a disciple.

Literal Translation

11 It happened in (his) journey to Jerusalem, HE went along (the border) of Galilee and Samaria. 12 As HE entered a village, ten leper men who stood far off met [HIM] 13 and they shouted out, saying, "Jesus, (great) Teacher, have mercy on us!" 14 Having observed (their plight), HE said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests."

It happened, in their departure, they were cleansed (of the leprosy). 15 But one of them, having seen that he was cured, returned giving glory to God in a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at HIS feet, thanking HIM. He was a Samaritan. 17 Having answered, JESUS said, "Were not ten cleansed? Where (are) the other nine? 18 Were (there) none found, having returned to give God glory, except this foreigner?" 19 HE said to him, "Stand up, go! Your faith has saved you."

17:11 "along (the border)" is literally "in the midst of." The middle between Galilee and Samaria is either along the border of the two areas or directly through Galilee first, then Samaria. Luke did not know the geography of the area. But that was not his intent. He touched on both areas as arenas for the preaching of the Good News. He would return to each area in the Acts of the Apostles.

17:12 ""shouted out" is literally "lifted up their voices."

17:13 "(great) Teacher" can also be translated "Master." This is the only time a non-disciple used this phrase (epistates). In the Leviticus, 13:45-46, the lepers should have warned strangers away because of their affliction. Here, they approach (even at a distance) and use the phrase as they ask for mercy. The combination of the title and the request implied an expectation for the coming kingdom. In his reign, God would grant mercy to the weak and the outcast.

17:19 "Go" is literally "Having gone." "Stand up" is "Having stood." In these sentences, the participle has the force of a command.

17:16 "He was a Samaritan." Like the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Luke used the hated Samaritan as the model for the disciple. This time, the Samaritan showed faith. Notice the man was an outcast for two reasons, ethnic impurity (i.e., heresy) and leprosy. For Luke, it seemed the more outcast the person, the clearer he or she could see the power and will of God.

17:19 "Stand up" can also be translated "Rise up," another way to express resurrection. At the point the man returned to Jesus, he became a disciple and a subject of God's Kingdom.

In a story of healing, Luke again affirmed the mission of Jesus to the outcast.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. [17:11a] Pointing out the destination of the journey, Luke emphasized the nature of Jesus' mission. His way was the road to humiliation and death in Jerusalem. Healing and preaching to the outcasts laid the groundwork for the capital charges that would be brought against him by the Jewish leaders.

The journey would take Jesus into the area of Galilee and Samaria; the communities of each hated each other and, so, were ripe for healing and the preaching of the Good News. So, Luke sets up the story of mixed outcasts who banded together out of necessity. As centuries-long enemies, Samaritans and Jews would never have eaten together unless the situation was desperate. Leprosy created such conditions for meal fellowship.

Standing at a distance, the ten lepers implored Jesus for a healing. [17:12-13] The distance was required by the Law, which both Samaritan and Jew followed (Leviticus 13:45-46). Their request was an act of faith in the healer, for they should have cried out "Unclean! Unclean!"

Jesus obliged their request with the command to show themselves to the priests, as required by the Law (Leviticus 14:1-32). [17:14a] Notice that only the word of Jesus was sufficient for the healing. Not only does speaking the word allow Jesus to remain ritually clean (he does not touch the lepers themselves), his word reveals his personal power. A person with such Godlike powers must be intimate with the Creator; he must speak the word of God and be filled with God's Spirit. When the healed lepers saw the priests (in Jerusalem), they would carry the physical evidence of who Jesus was. Their story to the priests would be a testimony to Jesus of Nazareth. The lepers would be advance men in Jerusalem for the wandering rabbi.

But, realizing he was healed, the Samaritan returned to praise God and thank the Lord. The hated foreigner fell at the feet of Jesus and became a disciple. [17:15-16] While the nine Jewish lepers witnessed to what Jesus did, the Samaritan witnessed to who Jesus was (and is). The rhetorical question Jesus asked was only a bridge to focus the crowd's attention on the outcast. From the position of submission, the Samaritan stood up at the command of Jesus (this is a sign of the resurrection, since the Greek word for resurrection, anastasis, means to "stand up"). [17:17-18a]

Finally, Jesus told the Samaritan, "Your faith has saved you." [17:18b] Many people have misinterpreted this statement; they believe people can heal themselves, if they only call upon their inner power. In this scenario, Jesus became the teacher who simply pointed out their inner power and gave them the means to "tap" into it.

These people forget who was in charge. Jesus did not explain an inner power or provide a hidden wisdom. He commanded healing. He lifted up the outcast (the Samaritan leper) to a new life. And, through Jesus' comment to the Samaritan, he affirmed the trust that the new disciple placed in him.

Faith is the conduit of God's activity, but God is not bound to act through faith. In fact, God usually acts outside the presuppositions we place upon faith. As a walk with Jesus, faith can take into areas over which we have no control. Into areas of the outcast. Into areas where Jesus raises us up. Like the Samaritan, we only need to trust in the Lord and allow him to affirm that trust.

Catechism Theme: The Anointing of the Sick

1505 Moved by so much suffering, Christ . . . makes . . . miseries (of the sick) his own: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross, Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the "sin of the world," of which illness is only a consequence.

In the story of the Ten Lepers, Jesus healed on his way to Jerusalem, the place of his Passover. The healing of the lepers and the faith of the Samaritan foreshadow the events of Christ's death and resurrection. Healing revealed God's kingdom and called people to faith; so, too, did the death and resurrection of Jesus call his followers to a deeper faith.

What "healings" in your life have called you to deeper faith? How have these healings revealed God's presence in your life? How have you responded?

Many of us can empathize with the returning Samaritan. We have all been misjudged and maligned at one point in life or another. We can easily see the fault of those who wrong us. But, when we are on the other side, when we judge others, does our judgment blind us to the needs of others? And to faith in God?

Luckily, the healed Samaritan gives us the key to heal us from our injuries and keep us from striking at others. Kneel at the feet of the Lord. Praise God for his goodness. And, await to be raised up.

How can you set your prejudices or hurts at the feet of the Lord this week? How can you await his healing?