Gospel, October 10: Luke 17, 11-18

“Go, show yourselves to the priests” is a request that the healed lepers go to the ones who in Jewish society authenticate cures from leprosy.  The priest, at the Jerusalem Temple, does not cure; he declares, for the knowledge of all citizens, that a person is cured of leprosy.  Leviticus obliges the cured leper to seek priestly authentication of his cure.

It is interesting to note how many cures of Jesus have a societal effect.  Not only are these lepers cured, but they can, with the authentication from the priests, participate in the worship of God together with the other Jewish worshipers.  Thus, they enter most fully into the People of God, that People called to worship God together.  Thus, the healing benefits not only physical health.

The translations I have consulted are not faithful to the original Greek text.  In the original text glory, praise is given to God, thanks is given to Jesus.  Thus, God is not thanked for this miracle, nor is Jesus glorified for it.  That there are two acts, each appropriate to one or other person in Luke’s story, suggests that Luke means to keep clear the distinction between God and Jesus, as well as the union of the two who act in concert.  A better example of this Lucan approach is Luke’s change of Mark’s, “You are the Messiah” to “You are the Messiah of God”.  Again, there is respect for the distinction between God and Jesus, as well as an acknowledgement of union.  In other words, where the leper thinks to find one (glorifying God), he finds the other (thanking Jesus).  To repeat, while we may think that ‘glorifying’ is interchangeable with ‘thanking’, Luke prefers to keep them and their objects distinct, but in union.  In Luke, one is hard pressed to find a clear statement that Jesus is divine, except for Lk 1, 35, where, because God is the cause of Jesus, Jesus, the effect, is like the cause: divine.  

One of the story’s main points is heavily underlined by Jesus.  The miracle, of course, is astounding, but the story concentrates on the fact that only one of the ten, and he a Samaritan, returned to thank Jesus.  One cannot miss the emphasis on gratitude owed, nor the reality that an ‘enemy of the Law and God of Israel’ shows a sensitivity that members of Israel do not.  The Good Samaritan Parable shows this contrast between the Samaritan, who one would expect not to be sensitive to Jews, and the priest and the Levite, who represent the holiness of Israel but allow Tradition to keep them from living it.  Further, one might suspect that, in the light of Luke’s entire work which includes the entry of the non-Jews into Christian unity (cf. the Acts by Luke), this story means to give an insight about people who usually are despised (while making one wonder about ‘why the other nine, Jews, did not return to Jesus’).  That is, here we may find a nod to the great problem of the Christians in the First Century AD: can be saved Gentiles saved and on what conditions?  Indeed, in Jesus’ time, the question is “And who (among Jews) can be saved?”  

One can only wonder at the non-return of the ‘other nine’.  There is no reason given, so we only speculate (assuming Luke permits us to speculate).  Perhaps they looked on the miracle as an act of God, and so only to God would they give due thanks; Jesus is not the source of the miracle.  Thanks and glory belong, they might think, only to God, the Healer.  (Or, perhaps they were just insensitive.)

That the miracle is a response to petition or prayer is no surprise, given that Luke expressly emphasizes the assuredness of responses to prayer (Luke 11, 5-13) and the necessity of constant prayer (Luke 18, 1-8).  In each of these teachings, Luke 11 and 18, the honor of God has center-stage: God can be counted on always, but, as Jesus says, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith [will he find us at prayer) on earth?"  In Luke 17, the petition of the ten lepers may not seem to be so important, but clearly Luke puts great emphasis for his readers on the value of asking, continually.

A final point turns on the last verse.  Here, Jesus identifies salvation as the result of faith.  Given Luke’s belief and the belief of his audience some 50 years after this event took place, the faith that produces salvation is faith in Jesus (not only in God); Jesus for these people is not just the human instrument of God, but divine in himself and thus the true and sufficient cause of the cures.  Further, salvation in Luke does not always refer to final salvation at the end of the world; often it refers to ‘saving from whatever at the present moment keeps me from worshipping God in holiness and justice all the days of my life’ (cf. Luke 1, 74).


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