Confused by today’s readings

I’m still in the middle of a series of posts on sin and immorality (and planning to respond to Peter Somerville’s questions about my post on drone strikes) but, unfortunately, I have a paper and a song to finish before class tomorrow, so I’ll have to wait a little on those posts.

In the meantime, I’d love to know if any Christians (or particularly well-informed atheists) can explain something that perplexed me during the readings at Mass today.  Rather than paraphrase, I’ll include the reading in its entirety (Luke 17:11-19):

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.

As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.

He was a Samaritan.

Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

I was perplexed about the message of this reading, since it still seems like Jesus is playing a rigged game with the lepers.  The last thing Jesus spoke to them was an instruction to present themselves to the priests, and it appears the ungrateful nine followed his command.  If I were miraculously healed by a deity, I would find it prudent to demonstrate obedience, just as the other nine lepers are presumably doing, yet Jesus rebukes them in absentia.

To me, it felt a little like the story of Mary and Martha, in which normal duty is trumped by the possibiltiy of a special service to God.  Obviously as someone who likes set rules and expectations above everything else, I find passages about exceptions to be difficult to process and inutile.

Are the lessons from this reading meant mainly for the disciples and lookers on who witness both a demonstration of Jesus’s power and his praise of an outcast?  If so, why is it included for posterity?  For historical completeness or for some alternate lesson?  Anyone have an opinion?

I did ask my boyfriend about this passage after Mass, and he told me that his impression was that the main point was to emphasize the faith of the Samaritan despite the stigma attached to his heritage.  He didn’t know the particulars of the translation off-hand, but also mentioned that ‘command’ might be too strong a word to attach to Jesus’s request.

Chris did manage to shed light on the other part of the reading that confused me, and the explanation was interesting enough to share.  In the Old Testament reading (2 Kings 5:14-17), a leper is cured by following the instructions of a prophet.  He offers the holy man a gift, is rebuked, and instead asks a boon:

Naaman said: “If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth, for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to the LORD.”

I was totally baffled by the mule-loads of earth, but, apparently, Naaman expected that all gods were tribal and linked to a particular location and people.  Therefore, to be able to worship the Jewish god, he would need to transport Jewish soil to his own home, to bring himself under the protection of their god.

So that’s one reading cleared up, and I’d appreciate any help on the first.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.cookiesforafrica.com Becky@CookiesForAfrica

    That's very interesting – I see what you're saying, but I just never read it that way. I have always assumed that the 10th leper DID go to the priest after thanking Jesus. There are rules in the OT about having your healing confirmed by a priest (for the safety of the community) and Jesus always followed the OT law, even if at times he brought additional layers of meaning to it. So my impression has always been that the 10 were healed by Jesus while they were on their way to the priest (the text seems to say that). The nine, having what they sought, had no more use for Jesus. It was the 10th that realized from whom his healing had come. His heart was filled with gratitude which he had to express to Jesus before returning to his journey to the priest. I don't think that a person pausing in their obedience to overflow with thanks is the same as disobedience.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    I generally concur with Becky's reading above, though I think the emphasis on his being a Samaritan is also important. That is to say, like everything, it is polysemous.(Polysemy: n. the quality of having multiple meanings.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12682894458280127355 Frank

    It seems pretty obvious that it is more important to be open to God with one's heart than to follow directives, even His directives. Jesus is always telling the apostles that they misunderstand who he is and what the kingdom of heaven is, and he's telling us as well. The Pharisees were then what the conscientious man aspires to be today, the fully realized religious man. Such a man is fundamentally mistaken in his understanding of grace and salvation. It is mercy and gratitude that reconcile us with God, not following directions. This is consistent with the p. of the Good Samaritan and the p. of the Publican and the Pharisee, and pretty much everything that Jesus said.Don't feel bad if you have trouble with this –so did the apostles, since this is not human reasoning and can only be understood through the operation of grace in us. Think of a child that you do everything for and he, like the non-prodigal child does what he's told and never causes any trouble. And then think of a child, like you and me and Paul and the other saints and apostles, who does everything wrong and wastes God's overflowing and plentiful gifts of love. And one day this unruly child becomes aware of how much has been given him, freely, and says to you: "I now realize what your gifts have meant to me, and I'd like to thank you for them." This lays the foundation for a deep, intimate and realistic loving relationship. Frank Dobbs

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    I will simply add that the message is for the reader of the gospel, not for the characters in the story. I am not saying it didn't happen (maybe it did, maybe it didn't) but you can't read anything in the bible and assume its a verbatim description of dry events, it is there to convey a message to the reader (otherwise they would have included some other event, the gospel of luke doesn't recount every action and every day of the man's life) I think the expectations for 'truthfulness' of events are quite different for us having lived in a world of video tape, photography, etc… than for people reading a written account in a world where there were no 'perfect' sources.

  • Anonymous

    The ugliest passage in the bible os Mark 4:11. Compare that with the Buddha's acceptance of 40 years of teaching if just one person could understand his massage.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17055305564871256288 Merbear

    To Anonymous – context is key. Compare Mark 4:11 with Mark 4:22 "For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open"

  • Anonymous

    Love is abundant. It is good to have faith and be healed. It is better to come back and thank Christ for it. Love is not only the fulfillment of the law, but exceeds the basic requirements of the law.


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