We are all very familiar with the story which St Luke tells us in today’s gospel. As often happens in gospel stories, there can be more than one meaning to the story. We can read it on many levels.
The most obvious is what the story tells us. Ten lepers are healed by Jesus, and only one of them comes back to thank him. Jesus expresses surprise that the others did not. More so given the fact that the only one who bothered to thank him was a Samaritan, a vowed enemy of the Jewish people of whom Jesus was a member. Already here we have an important message. It’s a teaching about gratitude. How beautiful, and important, it is to be thankful in life, not to take anything for granted. It is providential that we are reflecting on this story as we celebrate Thanksgiving Weekend. I am sure that each and every one of us has a lot to be thankful for in life. Sometimes we might tend to focus too much on the negative. Fact is that life has both ups and downs. It presents to us both good things and bad. Being thankful to all that is good helps us to be able to better face all that is not.
Delving deeper into the story, then, helps us to find a deeper meaning which Luke tries to convey. It starts with ten lepers, one of the perfect numbers in the bible. This can include each one of us. Leprosy was often considered as a punishment by God. The leper was cut off from everybody. He was cast out of the village, he could not touch or be touched by anyone. He was alone, just him and his illness. In a very real way, leprosy is a symbol of sin, which cuts us off from other people and severs relationships. That was what happened to Adam and Eve after that first human sin. All relationships were badly severed: relationships with God, with each other, and with nature. It’s worth noting that the lepers do not ask healing from Jesus, just “mercy”. Perhaps, having given up all hope of being healed, all they now desired was to be seen, to be given some importance, some dignity. Of course, Jesus did more than that. “Go show yourselves to the priests”, he tells them. That is what lepers were expected to do if they were healed from their illness, so that the priest could examine them and declare them healed, so that they can return to their community. These ten were not yet healed, but they believed. Or, at least, they hoped.
As they were going, the miracle happened. Nine of them kept going, as Jesus had told them. The Samaritan did not. Rather, he felt the urge to “turn back” and return to Jesus, the source of his healing. We can say that, in this case, the miracle was a cause for real conversion. That is what turning back implies. The healed leper did not continue on his way. The most important thing for him now is to return to the one who gave him back his life. This is what real faith is all about. It is not merely doing what one is expected to do by law. It is a desire to encounter Jesus, acknowledging that what is good come from him. This encounter with Jesus becomes more important than anything else. No wonder that, at the end, Jesus tells him that now he can go on his way: “your faith has made you well.”
True healing in not just the healing of bodily illnesses. It is a constant return to Jesus, an acknowledgement that only he can give us the fullness of life that we all desire.