The past Sunday’s reading from the Hebrew Bible recounts the story of Elisha, a Hebrew prophet from Samaria, and Naaman, a great military warrior who saved the kingdom of Syria in battle. But Namaan, for all his powers of leadership and combat strength, had contracted leprosy. Not a pretty sight – debilitating, deforming, and contagious. (2 Kings 5:14-17)
Elisha told Naaman to bathe in the River Jordan and he would be healed. Naaman felt it was beneath him. But with persuasion he did it anyway and was healed. His flesh became “like that of a little child” again. That changed his tune. He became less arrogant and acknowledged the Hebrew God.
Of course in Jesus’ time, the people of Samaria were despised by the Jews. Paired with the story of Elisha and Namaan, the Sunday Gospel recounts an occasion when Jesus, while traveling along the border of Samaria, encountered ten lepers–nine Jews and one Samaritan. All of them called out to him from a distance saying: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, because to re-enter society they were required to obtain a bill of clean health from a priest.
The nine Jews, having presumably done this, settled back into their regular lives and that was the end of it. No more was heard from them. It seems the healing made no fundamental difference to who they were or how they lived their lives.
But the underdog, the Samaritan, not being Jewish might very well have returned to family and friends in Samaria. Instead he went back to thank Jesus. With great gusto he shouted praises to God and fell down at Jesus feet, giving him thanks. Jesus observed, perhaps with wonder, that only the “stranger” had returned to give glory to God. (Luke 17:11-19)
Why did only the one return, and this a Samaritan? Once a leper and a social outcast, his transformation was not only skin deep–about color, race or physical attributes–but was much more fundamental than this. The Samaritan suddenly knew wholeness of being, a holiness that comes from a personal connection to Christ, our true nature. He became, in short, a new creation in which he was no longer “stranger” – the feared “other” – but could enjoy a whole new relationship with others, far deeper than skin deep, because his new identity was rooted in an encounter with the source of all Life.
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.
Soon after this, when the Pharisees demanded to know when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied that the “Kingdom of God does not come through observation” – it does not come through seeking externals, the outer layers of being, from seeing, judging and acting only skin deep, from seeing the world objectively, without heart ……………….…..No, LOOK! The kingdom of God, of all being, is among us, ‘within you’ ………… a conscious inter-being. (Luke 17: 11 -21)
…… and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.