On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ (NRSV).
Luke is quite specific about the location of this particular account. It occurs in an unnamed town somewhere between ‘Samaria and Galilee’. It is an early pointer to the identity of our story’s unlikely hero.
Jesus is heading for ‘Jerusalem’ – the city that famously ‘kills the prophets’. This town is merely a place of passing – unmentioned and unremembered. That is apart from the remarkable event that is about to take place.
And it really is worthy of remark.
Leprosy was a feared and little understood disease. These ten lives were bound by law not to ‘approach’ anyone – other than another ‘unclean’ leper. They are – together – social outcasts.
So it must have seemed a strange balance to find, but when Jesus arrived, they all ‘call’ and ‘keep’ their distance. Does there seem to be an element of planning revealed in their united approach?
Quite possibly. After all this is quite the opportunity. Jesus is passing and – especially for the sick – this is an event not to miss. They get as close as they dare and cry for his attention: ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’
They want – they demand – his healing.
Jesus’ response asks for their faith to find action. They are to search out the religious leaders – those with the power to officially declare them clean – and ‘show themselves’.
However unlike a healing remedy this may have seemed, Luke assures us that each of these men both ‘went’ and ‘were made clean’. A group miracle from a group request.
It must have breathed life and hope back into these people who before their walk could only imagine a miserable – and short – life filled with despair and hopelessness.
But now it has all changed.
From here, however, our account focuses on just one of these men. And he, revealingly, was a Samaritan.
Intriguingly, there is no evidence of this man ever reaching the local Jewish priests. Maybe he thought they would not extend their grace to him; perhaps he just didn’t feel comfortable in such an unfamiliar setting. Whether he made it or not it is abundantly clear that the whole team – including this one from Samaria – were healed ‘as they went’ and that this ‘foreigner’ turned back as soon ‘as he saw he was healed’.
It begs the question: Is this one the only one who disobeyed the order to go to the priest?
If so, it is a spontaneous, grateful, and very public disobedience – one that Jesus seems happy to overlook. Our Samaritan seems to run through the streets, shouting the glory of God. He hunts Jesus out, throws himself before him, and prays from his overflowing, abundantly thankful, heart.
Jesus’ miracle has restored his dignity – and he has immediately abandoned it again!
Jesus is somewhat surprised. But he is not surprised at this extravagant display of affection and thanks. He is surprised at the fact that he has done it alone.
And once again – in the unique way of Jesus – the least likely has become an example of faith and faith’s most appropriate response.