by Father Mike Stubbs
When I visit the hospital, I sometimes have to put on a paper gown and rubber gloves before stepping into the room.
That procedure is meant to prevent the spread of infection. In some cases, the patient has a highly contagious disease, which the hospital wants to protect me from catching. In other cases, the patient has a weakened immune system and needs to be protected from any germs that I might be carrying. Either way, the goal of this isolation is health.
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 17:11-19, we witness a similar example of isolation on account of disease. Ten lepers encounter Jesus outside of a village between Samaria and Galilee. They stand at a distance, as required by Mosaic Law:
“Order the Israelites to expel from camp every leper, and everyone suffering from a discharge, and everyone who has become unclean by contact with a corpse. Male and female alike, you shall compel them to go out of the camp; they are not to defile the camp in which I dwell” (Nm 5:2- 3). They are outsiders because of their disease.
Because of the limited understanding of biology at the time, their leprosy is looked upon not as a physical danger but, rather, as ritual impurity.
Of the 10 in the Gospel story, one leper carries a further disability. He is a Samaritan. As far as the Jews are concerned, this would make him still an outsider, even if he were perfectly healthy and free of leprosy.
That is why, when he returns to offer Jesus thanks for healing him, Jesus says, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Jesus is not addressing the Samaritan leper who has been cured but, rather, the disciples who are accompanying him. His words make the same point as the parable of the good Samaritan, which like this healing of the 10 lepers, is found only in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus wishes to assure us, that the Samaritans, like all other foreigners, also enjoy access to God. They are not outsiders.
That means that the main point of this Gospel story is not so much the miraculous healing of the 10 lepers, impressive as that may be.
Rather, Jesus is challenging the ethnocentric and xenophobic attitudes of his contemporaries.
In our own day and age, as hostility toward the foreigner and stranger increase, Jesus’ words and example once again urge us to open our hearts and our minds to the outsider. That in itself can be a miraculous healing.