The number ten is an important detail in this version of the story. Jewish men needed a “minion,” ten men, to pray. (Remember the story of Abraham bargaining with God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.) Ordinarily, the nine Jewish lepers would not allowed a Samaritan in their company. Ever since the children of Israel had come back from the exile in Babylon, they had been at odds with the Samaritans. It quickly becomes evident that these outcasts from society have made this accommodation in order to be able to hang on to some semblance of normalcy in their lives. Normally, they wouldn't have had anything to do with a Samaritan, but in their need, they are ready to make concessions. When they realized they had been cleansed, it quickly becomes evident that they no longer need the tenth man.
Jesus asks a rhetorical question. Where are the other nine? The question is rhetorical because he knows where they are. He knows what they are doing. They are presenting themselves to the priests of the Temple so that they can reenter the life of their families and their synagogues.
The Samaritan prostrates himself before Jesus; in other words, he worships Jesus by falling on his face before him. He is not only grateful for what Jesus has done, he is also expressing his faith. He believes. Jesus tells him that he has been saved by his faith, a familiar statement uttered by Jesus after many of his healing miracles. The other nine have put their faith in the Law. The Law, however, doesn’t save. As St. Paul wrote long before the Gospels were composed, we are saved by faith.
So while this story is a story of gratitude, it is also a story of isolation and of prejudice. The Samaritan is a model of gratitude for us, but he is also a model of acceptance and tolerance as he returns to give thanks to someone who is not of his own race. On so many levels, this story speaks volumes.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator