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Let the Scriptures Speak
28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
October 13, 2019
Dennis Hamm, SJ

One of them, realizing that he had been cured,
came back praising God in a loud voice.
He threw himself on his face
at the feet of Jesus and spoke his praises.
This man was a Samaritan.
(Gospel)
What the Samaritan Sees

When Naaman the Syrian is cured of his skin disease, he asks Elisha permission to haul off a pile of dirt. What is the deal about the dirt? This is a puzzlement for us twentieth-century readers because we do not link the presence of God with geography. Things were different in the world of the Ancient Near East that provides the context for Elisha’s healing of Naaman. In that time and place, every group had their own, local god. It was a breakthrough for the Israelites to acknowledge that their god, Yahweh, was in fact not just the god of Israel; Yahweh was the creator of all and therefore God of all. Thus, when Naaman is healed in the name of the God of the Israelites, he comes to the same insight: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel” (First Reading). But, since he has come to recognize that the God of all is especially the God of Israel, he wants to honor that fact by taking home as much of the land of Israel as he can pack into a two-mule cart.

This interest in the proper place to find the presence of God carries over into the Gospel account of Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers. In subtle ways (for the details, see Hamm, “What the Samaritan Leper Sees: The Narrative Christology of Luke 17:11-19,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 56.2 [1994] 273-87), Luke makes much of sacred geography in this narrative.

The Samaritan is acknowledging that the proper place to encounter the presence of God is in the person of Jesus.
Luke is careful to note that this episode occurs “along the borders of Samaria and Galilee” (apart from Jericho, this is the only location he mentions during the whole nine-chapter journey from Galilee to Jerusalem). When Jesus instructs the ten lepers to “show [themselves] to the priests,” two things are implied. First, he is telling them to do what Leviticus instructs those who recover from quarantined skin diseases to do: to get certified by the Temple personnel as cured, so that they might resume normal life in the community. Second, the lone Samaritan (whom we learn later is among the ten) has a dilemma: to which temple should he report? Jesus surely means the Jerusalem Temple, but as a Samaritan he recognizes Mount Gerizim as the true place to worship God, and his priests are, of course, the Samaritan priests at Gerizim.

Since both Gerizim and Jerusalem are south of Galilee, the Samaritan can begin heading south with the gang of ten, but eventually he must face this choice of the proper place to meet God’s mediators. On the way, the ten are cleansed from their disease. The Samaritan, alone among the ten, gets an insight: neither Jerusalem nor Gerizim is the sacred place to meet the mediation of God’s presence. That “sacred space” is now the person of Jesus. And so he comes back to Jesus “praising God in a loud voice.” He falls at the feet of Jesus thanking him. There is more to that word “thanking” than meets our English-reading eye and ear. For Luke writes euchariston—a word that is used in the Greek Bible only for thanks and praise given God. And “God” in Luke’s writings is reserved for the Father. Thus, in Luke’s language, this sentence is saying, in effect, that the Samaritan is acknowledging that the proper place to encounter the presence of God is in the person of Jesus.

Jesus’ own words affirm this insight: “Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God except this foreigner?” Even the Greek word used here for “foreigner” (allogenes) is a tip-off. It was the word used on the signs posted on the balustrade in the Jerusalem Temple precincts, separating the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of Israel, banning non-Jews such as Samaritans from that more sacred inner court on pain of death.

Ironically, as Luke will spell out in the Acts of the Apostles, it is the foreigner who comes to see that Jesus is now the privileged “place” to meet the presence and healing power of the God of all.

Dennis Hamm, SJ
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Fr. Hamm is emeritus professor of the New Testament at Creighton University in Omaha. He has published articles in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The Journal Of Biblical Literature, Biblica, The Journal for the Study of the New Testament, America, Church; and a number of encyclopedia entries, as well as the book, The Beatitudes in Context (Glazier, 1989), and three other books.


Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go http://www.ltp.org

 
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