On first reading, the Gospel passage for this week seems to be a relatively simple healing story, with a moral about gratitude. Yet on closer reading the details are a little puzzling. Ten lepers appeal to Jesus. He instructs them to go and show themselves to the priest. They do as he says, and on the way there they find themselves cured. One leper – a Samaritan --returns to thank Jesus, who asks where the other nine are. He then tells the Samaritan that his faith has made him whole. But where did the other nine go wrong? They did just what Jesus told them to, and they too, the passage says, were made whole? So why was this one specially commended?
The answer is this. Despite being a Samaritan and therefore an 'outsider' to the faithful, only the man who turned back realized what the miracle revealed -- that the healer stood in a unique relationship to God. The wholeness that this perception brought him, was not merely freedom from leprosy -- which the others gained as well -- but a new, saving and transforming spiritual insight.
The same insight into who Jesus really was lies at the heart of Paul’s extraordinary mission to the Gentile world. The essence of his preaching, brilliantly summarized in this week's Epistle, springs from his conversion on the road to Damascus. Someone who thought Jesus to be the dead leader of a renegade Jewish sect, becomes someone who can see in him the long awaited Christ. "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David -- that is my gospel".“To obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory, the saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him”.
The Gospel episode plainly echoes the story told in this week's Old Testament lesson. Naaman, brilliantly successful Commander of the Aramaean armies, is haunted and hindered by leprosy. Thanks to Elisha, he obtains a cure from the God of the Israelites. Yet it is not health, but knowledge that is key to this story. When Naaman’s ‘flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy’, he, like the Samaritan, ‘returned to the man of God . . . and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
Jesus made no special demands of the leper who returned, and gave him no special benefits. What marked him out from the rest was his ability to recognize Jesus for who he was. It is a test that many Christians more focused on health benefits and material advantages have found it easy to fail.
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