The Leper Colony

If we look closely, we may find a number of modern-day "leper colonies."

Luke 17:11-19
as told by Deborah

On his way to Jerusalem Jesus came to a village on the border between Samaria and Galilee.

Ten lepers lived there — who kept themselves apart from everyone else. They called out, “Jesus! Hey, mister! Have mercy!”

Victims of a dread disease, they expected fear or scorn or, hopefully, sympathy.

But when Jesus saw them, he said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And, as they went, they were healed.

One of them, realizing that he was healed, turned back, shouting praise to God. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.

And he was a Samaritan.

Jesus frowned, “Weren’t there ten who were healed? What happened to the other nine? Can it be that no one stopped to praise God except this outsider?”

Looking at the man he said, “Arise and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
November 27, 2017

Be Grateful?

10 HealedBe grateful. That’s the moral of this story, isn’t it: a reminder to pause and give thanks for the blessings we have received. To do so is the mark of special character, because most people don’t — in fact, nine out of ten don’t, based on the case of the lepers who were healed by Jesus.

They’re so eager reenter the human race that they run off with not so much as a backward glance. Not even a shouted, “Thanks, buddy!” to the Lord after their miraculous healing.

We’re all inclined to take our blessings for granted, that’s true. And the story of the ungrateful lepers is an especially timely one during the week after Thanksgiving — when so much of our focus is directed toward holiday shopping and preparing for The Big Event to come. We’re off and running, too.

Pause, and give thanks. A good message, to be sure.

But I wonder….

Perhaps there is more to the story.

The Good Samaritan

The author makes a special point of stating that there are Samaritans afoot. It would raise a red flag for the hearers, as do the words of the Lord, who describes the grateful leper as “an outsider” — a foreign, alien being, definitely not “one of us.”

Yet he was the only one who did the right thing.

At the time, Jews had no dealings with Samaritans, and vice-versa; they avoided contact, keeping apart from one another (just like lepers kept themselves apart from the general population) and each believed the worst of the other.

A lot like people do nowadays. There’s us and there’s them: the good — and the bad.

But this leper adventure turns that narrative upside down. If the story were told today, this is how it would conclude:

One of them, realizing that he was healed, turned back, shouting hallelujahs. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.

And he had voted for Donald Trump.

Or Hillary. The point is, the fellow is clearly a member of a group that "our side" scorns, hates, and looks-down upon.

Now what do you think of that leper?

Leper thanking Jesus

Justifications & Rationalizations

Hearing the story in contemporary terms, what would our reaction be, knowing that the only grateful individual was absolutely and completely not “one of us”? Would we still consider him admirable, or would we be finding reasons to downplay or negate his action?

“Well, maybe that one gave thanks, but I’ll bet the other nine were Samaritans, too — and they didn’t say anything.”

“You know why they had leprosy in the first place, don’t you? Because Samaritans have filthy habits.”

“Yeah, and right afterwards he went out and robbed a liquor store.”

“He’s probably married to his cousin.”

“Can anything good come out of Samaria?”

Well, of course we wouldn’t say anything like that. But we’d hear it, or read it, or think it. Anything to maintain the status quo and ensure that the outsiders stay out and we stay securely in. Our devotion to protecting our prejudices can often far exceed our devotion to the Lord.

Who’s Who

It’s easy to be distracted by the “good Samaritan.” We are soothed and gratified in thinking that he stands in for us. But there’s always more to the story, and so, with Jesus, we ask: “What happened to the other nine?”

Who are they and what did they do — those who ran off without a word of thanks? What if they were some of us?

What if the story went like this:

Knowing that his days were numbered, Jesus traveled through a region filled with conflict.

Ten lepers lived there — isolated from everyone else. They called out, “Jesus! Hey, Lord! Make things all right for us!”

They expected fear or scorn, but hoped for sympathy — preferably in the form of a shower of alms. A tightly-knit clique, they were bound together by resentment and self-pity.

grateful leperBut Jesus saw right through them. He said, “Go and return to your community.” And, in their going, they were restored to wholeness.

One of them, realizing that he was healed, turned back, shouting hallelujahs. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.

And he wasn’t one of us.

The Volunteer Leper Colony

What happened to the other nine: the ones who went dashing off without once looking back? Perhaps it is in the not-looking-back that we know the most about them: they learned nothing from their past. Unlike the wise, grateful leper, they didn’t pause, they didn’t stop to give thanks to God, they simply rushed away.

Then what? Only older, not wiser, they would remain a tribe apart: relishing their uniqueness, their special status — now as “the healed” rather than the ill. With no desire to give thanks to God, no felt-need for gratitude, the nine would assure one another that their blessings were deserved; they were obviously “the good guys,” who were reaping their rewards — unlike the tainted, unhealed crowd.

And so the lepers would reestablish their old colony; another isolated enclave separate from the rest of the community. There, comfortable and secure, the only voices they would hear were their own: a cozy echo-chamber of smugness and self-pity.

icon of the 10 lepers

The Gift of Healing

Jesus said to the man, “Arise and go on your way;
your faith has made you well.”

Faith. The grace-filled belief that God’s goodness stretches across the universe, blessing and enlivening all creatures great and small: all creatures. Faith is “walking humbly with your God”: having the humility to admit that we don’t know everything, and to accept that we may be wrong about some things [gasp]. Faith is loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength; and loving your neighbor as yourself. It is having compassion for all, and hope for all, and concern for all. Faith blesses and comforts and encourages and heals. Faith heals us.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,


Suggested Spiritual Exercises

Where are the leper colonies in your life?

Praise God for the gift of faith and the healing power of lovingkindness.

Illustration credits:
Ten Lepers Healed, 2010, Brian Kershishnik
"The Grateful Leper,” Ten Lepers, 2003, Henry Martin