This Sunday is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we discussed the many layers of boundaries with this narrative. Today we consider the encounter of those boundaries by people of faith.
“Stand up and go; your faith has saved [sozo] you” (v.19). Such are the words spoken to the Samaritan leper, the only one who returned and gave thanks to Jesus. sozo has as a basic meaning, “to rescue from danger and to restore to a former state of safety and well being.” Thus it is translated with words like “save,” “heal,” “make whole,” depending upon how the danger is understood. How are we to understand the use of sozo here in this verse?
If we take the meaning as “heal” or “make whole” then the question is raised as to the fate of the other nine. If one reads the text closely there is no clear statement or command from Jesus about healing the leprosy. Jesus simply commands them to show themselves to the priest, who acted as a kind of health inspector (Lev 14:2 ff). Was Jesus putting their faith to the test to act as though they had been cured? Was Jesus simply responding with divine graciousness to their plea: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Of course, there would be no need to show themselves to any priest unless they were in fact healed, or were healed on the way. If all ten were healed, then why would Jesus say that the Samaritan’s faith has “healed” him? Were the others healed but without faith? Were they simply evidence to the priests of the breaking in of the reign of God in the person of Jesus? Did the leprosy return to the nine because they failed to return and give thanks to Jesus?
There are other questions that can be fairly read into the gaps of the story. When Jesus commanded them to go to the priests, where were the lepers headed. One might speculate that the nine Galilean lepers were headed to Jerusalem whereas the Samaritan leper would move away from Jerusalem towards Mt. Gerezim. What is clear is that the cure awoke within the Samaritan, the foreigner, a chord of gratitude. He did not wait to be certified fit to rejoin the community, but returned to Jesus when he saw that he was cured.
Has the Samaritan leper moved away from both locales and become a true worshiper echoing the experience of the Samaritan woman at the well in the 4th Chapter of John: “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him” (John 4:21-23).
If the meaning of sozo is taken as “saved” as in having been given eternal life then other questions are raised. What about the other nine? Is this a story of 10 who were healed but only one who was saved? Did the other nine lack faith and thus were not saved? There is nothing in the account which would indicate that the nine lacked faith in God. In truth there is nothing that indicates they lacked gratitude. The nine are blessed and the Mosaic law is enjoined, but their response falls short of that of the Samaritan. But there is something different about the response of the Samaritan
Image credit: CodexAureus Cleansing of the ten lepers, Public Domain, Wikimedia