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CONCERNING INGRATITUDE

Read­ing Time: 8 minutes

(Ref. Texts: 2Kgs 5:14–17; Ps 9796; 2Tim 2:8–13; Luke 17:11–19)

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from anoth­er per­son. Each of us has cause to think with deep grat­it­ude of those who have lighted the flame with­in us” (Albert Sch­weitzer). “Ingrat­it­ude is a crime more despic­able than revenge, which is only return­ing evil for evil, while ingrat­it­ude returns evil for good” (W. G. Jordan).

Introduction

Luke 17:11–19 is a fur­ther cla­ri­fic­a­tion of the Gos­pel of last Sunday (Luke 17:5–10). Jesus is gradu­ally approach­ing Jer­u­s­alem hence the pres­ence of the lepers should not be a sur­prise. That the lepers stood far off should not be a sur­prise as well, since the lepers them­selves know that the law obliged them to keep their dis­tance due to their phys­ic­al con­di­tion. They must remain sep­ar­ated from the rest of the soci­ety (cf. Lev 13:45–46). It is curi­ous to note that the lepers though segreg­ated, found solid­ar­ity among them­selves. The decision to move as a group in sup­plic­at­ing Jesus’ mercy is worth men­tion­ing. United we stand, divided we not only fall, but we also clash.

They stood at a distance

Due to their phys­ic­al ail­ment, the law pro­hib­its the lepers from mix­ing with oth­ers (cf. Lev 13:45–46; Num 5:2–4). Not­with­stand­ing they stood far off, this did not pre­vent them from seek­ing the atten­tion of Jesus. Since they could see Jesus, they had to make an attempt and seek solu­tion to their sick­ness. Hence, they lif­ted up their voices and implored Jesus to have mercy on them so that they could re-join oth­ers in the day-to-day activ­ity, includ­ing wor­ship­ping in the Temple. By implor­ing Jesus to have mercy on them, they invari­ably reques­ted to be cured. The soci­ety that was sup­posed to take care of them did noth­ing but, tagged them as impure and there­fore, excluded them from oth­ers. They were stig­mat­ized. Nat­ur­ally, their sick­ness was con­sidered ser­i­ous pun­ish­ment from God. Nev­er­the­less, such neither frus­trated nor made them to des­pair. In 4:18, Luke explains that Jesus’ mis­sion com­prises pro­claim­ing release to the cap­tives and set­ting at liberty those who are oppressed. Besides being oppressed by sick­ness, these ten lepers were in fact, vic­tims of injustice and reli­gious dis­crim­in­a­tion and fan­at­icism. How­ever, to be noted is that the belief that sick­ness is pun­ish­ment from the gods was rampant dur­ing the pre-bib­lic­al and bib­lic­al peri­ods. The Jews upheld such view too. The Book of Job and Ezekiel 18 are attempts to cor­rect such impres­sion by lat­ter gen­er­a­tions. While his friends and wife insisted on con­vin­cing Job to con­fess his sins and be freed from his suf­fer­ings, he refused and con­tin­ued to affirm his inno­cence. His friends were con­vinced that his pre­dic­a­ments were pun­ish­ments from God due to his many sins. On the oth­er hand, Ezekiel cla­ri­fied that each per­son is and should be respons­ible for his or her sins. Who­ever sins should pay for his or her sins. No longer should someone suf­fer or die for the sins of another.

Eleēson umas

On sight­ing Jesus, the lepers shouted: “Iēsou epi­stata, eleēson umas – Jesus, Mas­ter, have mercy/pity on us!” Con­sid­er­ing their phys­ic­al con­di­tion, the lepers needed someone to show them mercy and lib­er­ate them from their piti­able con­di­tion. It is the cry of someone in great need. In Luke 16:24, the rich man when he saw his con­di­tion shouted “Abraam, eleēson me – Abra­ham, have mercy on me.” Again, as Jesus was approach­ing Jericho, a blind man (Bar­tim­aeus accord­ing to Mark 10:46–52) who sat along the road beg­ging heard about him and shouted “Iēsou uie Dauid, eleēson me – Jesus, son of Dav­id, have mercy/pity on me!” (Luke 18:38–39). In the litur­gic­al arrange­ment of the Cath­ol­ic Church, par­tic­u­larly the Euchar­ist­ic cel­eb­ra­tion, the pen­it­en­tial part con­sists of sup­plic­a­tion for the mercy of God to enable the faith­ful offer a worthy sac­ri­fice. Such sup­plic­a­tion is due to the fact that the faith­ful includ­ing the presid­ing clergy are con­scious of their unwor­thi­ness. The faith­ful must be helped to under­stand the import­ance and cent­ral­ity of the pen­it­en­tial act. Besides their phys­ic­al con­di­tion, the lepers also suffered spir­itu­ally, psy­cho­lo­gic­ally and emo­tion­ally. Who does not know the pains of being segreg­ated from the mem­bers of the com­munity. They suffered spir­itu­ally because they were excluded from the temple wor­ship due to their phys­ic­al sick­ness. These two loads espe­cially the exclu­sion from the soci­ety had ser­i­ous effect on their psyche. It is only the inter­ven­tion of Jesus that could restore them both phys­ic­ally, spir­itu­ally, emo­tion­ally and psy­cho­lo­gic­ally. To allow Jesus pass without seek­ing his assist­ance would be fatal. It was a unique oppor­tun­ity that could not be allowed to escape. Nat­ur­ally, Jesus hearkened to their plea.

When he saw them….

When he saw them, he said to them, go and show yourselves to the priests. And as they went, they were made clean” (Luke 17:14). Imme­di­ately Jesus heard the shout­ing of the lepers, he turned towards them and ordered them to go and show them­selves to the priest. Without fur­ther ques­tion­ing, they left. Since they believed him and in him, there was no need wast­ing time. The Mas­ter has ordered and they simply had to obey. Faith at work! It is inter­est­ing to observe that Jesus ordered them to go and show them­selves to the priest without any assur­ance of being cured. Def­in­itely, before they got to the priest whose duty it was to veri­fy wheth­er they were healed or not, they were cleansed. That is, their heal­ing took place on their way to the priest. The instruc­tion to show them­selves to the priest is in keep­ing with the Mosa­ic law (cf. Lev 14:2–32). It was the only proof that they have been made whole and were there­fore, free to mingle with oth­ers and par­ti­cip­ate in the temple wor­ship. Jesus, the hope of the down­trod­den. Note that it is the priest who did the heal­ing. The instruc­tion says they should go to the priest and show them­selves. This going and show­ing is a proof that they have been healed.

Faith is not enough

To Jesus’ com­mand “go, show yourselves to the priest”, the lepers left without fur­ther delay. In its non-lit­er­al sense, epi­deix­ate (imper­at­ive aor­ist from epi­deik­numi) means prov­ing bey­ond doubt that some­thing is true (cf. Acts 18:28). There­fore, show­ing them­selves to the priest means prov­ing to the priest and to the people that they have been cured of their lep­rosy and should no longer be segreg­ated from the people, and from the spir­itu­al and reli­gious activ­it­ies of the com­munity. By the time they left Jesus’ pres­ence, they still had lep­rosy. But by the time they got to the priest, they were already healed. Their atti­tude is a com­bin­a­tion of faith and obed­i­ence. Faith is not enough. There are oth­er vir­tues that must work con­com­it­antly with faith. The obed­i­ence of the lepers pre­ceded their heal­ing. Obed­i­ence and faith pro­duce won­der­ful res­ults (cf. Luke 5:5; 2Kg 5:13–14). There are people who claim to pos­sess great faith but lack obed­i­ence. There are also oth­ers who pre­sume they can pray down the heav­ens but very dis­obedi­ent. These are signs of fan­at­icism and unbe­lief. Faith without obed­i­ence is fun­da­ment­al­ism. The inab­il­ity to do the right thing shows lack of faith. Faith is neither a the­ory nor a verbal affirm­a­tion. Faith is action. Faith is prac­tic­al life.

He was a Samaritan

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, prais­ing God with a loud voice. He pros­trated him­self at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samar­it­an” (Luke 17:15–16). After present­ing them­selves to the priest, one of the lepers noticed he has been cured. Imme­di­ately, he turned back, that is, went back to Jesus, prais­ing God in loud voice. When he got to Jesus, he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet thank­ing God for mak­ing him clean again. Now fol­lows the major point of the story. Among the ten people that were healed, none thought it wise to come back and give praise to God except the Samar­it­an, a for­eign­er. Jesus expressed his amazement by under­lin­ing that the only one per­son that turned back was a for­eign­er. We recall that the Jews and the Samar­it­ans des­pised one anoth­er. This incid­ent recalls Naa­man the Syr­i­an who also returned to Samaria to offer a present to Elisha, who had cleansed him of lep­rosy (cf. 2Kg 5:15). Cer­tainly, the oth­er nine were Jews who must have pre­sumed their heal­ing. Con­sequently, they saw no reas­on they should go back to Jesus to express their grat­it­ude to God for the favour bestowed on them. This is ingrat­it­ude! Unlike the Jews, Luke has stor­ies that depict the Samar­it­ans as those who put into prac­tice God’s com­mand. In Luke 10:29–37, it was a Samar­it­an who proved to be a good neigh­bour to the needy. Here again in 17:15–16, a Samar­it­an under­stood the neces­sity to go back and thank God for bless­ings received. Luke repeats his usu­al slo­gan: Those who think they are first shall be last while those who are placed last due to injustice, poverty, dis­crim­in­a­tion and hatred shall be first. In terms of giv­ing thanks, am I a Jew or a Samaritan?

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