Each of the synoptic Gospels tells of Jesus cleansing lepers. St. Luke’s version is unique in that he tells us that Jesus cleanses ten lepers. The reason for this larger number is that Luke is telling the story as a Gentile, someone who knows what it is like to be left out. He also tells us that one of the lepers is a Samaritan, the quintessential representative of people who were left on the outside looking in.
The number ten is important because Jews needed ten men to pray. Even today, Jewish men must form a minion in order to worship God through prayer. The nine Jewish lepers have obviously accepted the Samaritan leper into their group because he was needed. Lepers were not permitted to associate with others; so without the Samaritan, they were completely cut off from their faith life. Once they are cleansed, they do what was required of them: they went to the priests to be declared clean. Once they had offered the customary sacrifice in the Temple, they were free to join their families again. The Samaritan was no longer necessary.
The story emphasizes the fact that only the Samaritan came back to thank Jesus for the favor bestowed upon him. However, gratitude for the fact that they were restored to health is just one part of this story. Jesus’ comments are not only about the other nine lepers, they are also about those who simply discard the Samaritan once he is no longer needed.
As we give thanks today, we need to spend some time acknowledging the many people in our world who are not able to sit down to a wonderful meal today. As Pope Francis has pointed out so often, poverty throughout the world is the result of those who fail to share the resources that God has given us. There is more than enough to go around. The Scriptures demonstrate in this story and in so many others that when one person has more than they need, many people don’t have enough. As we give thanks today for all that we have, let us be reminded of the poor Samaritan who is simply discarded because he is no longer needed. There are many like him in the world today.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator