Today’s Gospel passage is a miracle story of healing: ten lepers are cleansed and made whole again. Some commentators also consider it a parable, that is, a story with a twist in the tale.
As Jesus is passing through a village on the borderlands of Galilee and Samaria, he comes across a group of ten persons afflicted with leprosy. As was usual in those days, this group probably lived on the outskirts of the village, shunned by all. They saw Jesus and cried to him from afar, as others had done before, “Jesus, Master, take pity on us.”
Jesus doesn’t approach them and touch them as he had done in other cases, but tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, as a proof that they were healed. The cure takes place as they do so.
One of the lepers realizes that he has been cured, and rushes back to Jesus, falls at his feet and thanks him. This man was a Samaritan, a community ordinary Jews despised and distanced themselves from. Jesus accepts his thanks and praises him. Centuries ago, Naaman the Syrian commander had similarly been cleansed of his skin disease by a word from the prophet Elisha. He too returned to give thanks, and blessed the prophet.
Why is it, Jesus asks, that our own people take me for granted, and once they get what they want, do not even have the courtesy to thank me for their healing? How is it that strangers and pagans are more appreciative of what they have received, than God’s own people? Does familiarity breed a sense of entitlement, and hence ingratitude?
If the story is read as a parable, it tells us that those closest to us are often the most ungrateful. Rather it is to the stranger that we must look for help, appreciation and faith. It also says that our common humanity is of greater value than our relationships with family and clan.