"Where are the Others?" Where are We?
“He was a Samaritan.”
The sentence stands alone in the gospel today. Four words, but they say so much. This seemingly small detail in today’s gospel helps us to understand the nature of redemption and God’s vision of our human family – and our place in both.
“Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Jesus’ words are an accusation against his own people; they are also ironic. God’s gift of redemption comes as a free offering, out of love. The proper response to such an offering – so generous and life-giving of a gift – is gratitude. And this attitude, apparently, is adopted only by “this foreigner” – someone who (in the view of a “good Jew”) is outside the People of God and His promises. Jesus’ words are ironic, because in the grand scheme of God’s vision for our human family he is not a foreigner.
This Samaritan was not a foreigner to the life of grace. He recognizes that the proper response to the gift of grace is to be grateful. In so doing, he is aware of God’s redemption that has come to him through his encounter with Christ, and all the strictures of the law fall aside. He does not “show himself to the priests” right away. Rather, he returns to the source of that grace; he returns to Jesus Christ.
The question of who belongs and who does not continues to concern us in our lives. In our society, we promote and celebrate our diversity, yet we remain hung-up on what makes us different. We join clubs, Facebook pages and even Church associations that can sometimes estrange us from one another. These things are not wrong or bad, but they can only be part of a greater whole – a unity in diversity – a reflection of the very life of God.
Those ten lepers were united in their affliction. It did not matter that one or another of them was a Samaritan or a foreigner. Their suffering brought them together. Their reliance on one another brought them together and transcended any arbitrary distinction.
And their suffering brought them to Jesus – an encounter with the incarnate God.
And then they were united in a new way: they were united in their experience of the life and grace of God, given to them through the healing touch of Christ. They were united in their redemption.
However, only one recognized this, and as if to further underscore the significance, we hear who he is: “He was a Samaritan.” Only the “foreigner,” only the one who was least expected to even be there, only the one who was considered an outsider to the life of grace – only he came back to the source of that grace and celebrated, praising God in thanksgiving – in euchariston!
Where were the others? The fact that Jesus asks this question indicates that He expected more from those whom His love had touched. What did the other nine do? We all have excuses and reasons why those thank you notes don’t get written or thanks aren’t offered. So did the nine. Some may have been so thrilled to be healed that they couldn’t wait to run home to be reunited with their loved ones; some may have actually been doing what Jesus said and “showed themselves to the priests” – in the Temple where they had been forbidden to worship; maybe some just figured that healing them was Jesus’ job, and therefore didn’t need any thanks. Whatever the reason, we can add our own to them. However, it is clear that Jesus wants us to give thanks – and His sacrifice for us is at the heart of the Church’s thanksgiving – our “eucharist.” It is what includes us in the life of grace, just like those healed lepers.
Today, we are sharers in this life of grace – offered to us freely by our loving God. Through our baptism, we are joined to the Body of Christ, and all distinctions fall aside. With us there can be no male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek. Rather, we have our citizenship in heaven, through incorporation into the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. The gift does not depend on anything that we do – not even on our gratitude. However, our salvation is found in that recognition of the Source of that grace. We are called to return – return giving praise and thanks to God.
This is the nature of our celebration here. We praise our Creator, we celebrate the Word of God, we are touched by Jesus in a real way through our Communion, and we give thanks – we celebrate the Eucharist, our thanksgiving. The gift of God’s life shared with us does not cost a thing, but through our thanksgiving we are brought to the realization of that salvation that comes through Jesus Christ.