Today’s Gospel is maybe more important than we might think at first glance.
If I were preparing a homily for this this Gospel, I would probably base it around ‘thankfulness’ and ‘gratitude’. Ten were cured of leprosy; only one came back to say thanks.
As children, probably one of the first lessons we learned was to say, “please and thank you.” They are hugely important words, underpinning values which are central to forming good relationships with others.
‘Thank you’, in particular, affirms that we are not the centre of our own universe; than we need others, and appreciate them.
Saying ‘thanks’ is important to the person who hears it. Our expression of gratitude pleases them, shows respect for them, and adds to their self-esteem. But saying thanks is also important for our own wellbeing. There is a pleasure in giving to another, and a simple ‘thank you’, if truly meant, unites us to another and can bring us much happiness.
When Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it to the full.”, I feel certain that expressing gratitude for what we have is included in this ‘life’ Jesus offers us.
However, there is something else in this Gospel; something which is highly significant from the point of view of Jesus’ overall Mission in this world and how he saw his own part in revealing the Kingdom of God.
While thankfulness is the obvious theme of the Gospel, what I think, is central to what Jesus wants us to hear is that the one person who returned to say thanks was a Samaritan. Jesus says it himself in the last verse, “…it seems no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.”
Because I want what I share with you to be a ‘reflection’ rather than homily suggestions, I will try to stay with this idea. It might not be the ‘stuff’ of a homily, but it is, for me, hugely important in coming to meet the Jesus who walked those roads and trails of Galilee.
If, by chance, you feel that reflections of this type are not what you want to see here, please tell me. A reflection is only of value if it provokes thought, poses questions and, through them, brings us closer to God.
Gospel Reflection for Sunday October 9th
Have you ever wondered what it was that put Jesus on a direct collision course with the Jewish authorities of his time? What was it that made this compassionate and forgiving man so hated by the priests and other religious leaders that they wanted to kill him?
There probably were many reasons, among them jealousy of his growing popularity, anger at the way he tweaked parts of the Jewish Law, and resentment at the level of stinging criticism he levelled at aspects of their lifestyle.
Yet this alone can’t fully explain the need they felt to kill him. After all, John the Baptist probably attracted more people to the Jordan for baptism than Jesus ever had following him. John, we are told even had Roman soldiers and Pharisees listening and responding to his message. The authorities were suspicious of John, but they were content to let him continue baptising and preaching. When he was executed, it was at the hands of the Jewish King Herod, a puppet-king for Rome, put in place to give the illusion that the Jews still governed.
It seems to me that there was something more in the message of Jesus; something more than jealousy and anger; something which profoundly disturbed the Jewish authorities and brought about his death.
What that ‘extra’ was, I think, can be found in Jesus’ understanding of the ‘Kingdom of God’. From the beginning it was at the centre of his mission; “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is very near.” In itself this would not be a problem. The Jews, occupied and suffering under Roman occupation, were waiting for the promised Messiah to appear and there was a growing certainty among them that it would be soon. Indeed, it had to be soon, because with even their Temple (the dwelling place of God) occupied, it was becoming intolerable for them to continue as they were.
The awaited Kingdom of God which the Messiah would bring into the World was fairly clearly understood by the Jewish people. God would come in glory and majesty, with the Messiah by his side, to restore and reward his chosen people. They would be vindicated before the nations, and then there would be a judgement. Their enemies would be punished for their wickedness and after that this Kingdom, ruled by God himself, would govern forever with justice, peace, and happiness. This was what the Prophets promised, sealed in a ’new and eternal Covenant’ between God and his people.
In many ways, it was this belief in the coming of the Kingdom of God which kept them going, barely tolerating occupation because they believed it would soon end. The leaders of the people (the pharisees, sadducees, etc), without doubt, walked a narrow path, aware of, and indeed sharing, the growing unease of the people, yet fearful of the destruction the mighty Romans could bring upon them.
As a Jew, Jesus and his followers would have believed, and shared, all of this. When Jesus said that “the Kingdom of God was near.”, most of those who listened longed to believe that and see it happen. Jesus was by no means alone as a ‘Kingdom preacher’ and miracle worker. Many others before him had come and gone, promising the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. They brought a brief hope, but when they died so did their message. If Jesus was just another travelling Kingdom preacher and healer, the authorities would have observed and tolerated him, letting history take its course ……but something made Jesus different.
The Gospels seem to suggest that as he travelled the roads from town to town his awareness of his own part in the Kingdom developed and changed. Increasingly, in his preaching and his actions, he seemed to be identifying himself with the coming Messiah and linking his own life with the coming of the Kingdom of God. More and more he seemed to be implying that the Kingdom of God was to be ushered in, not just by him, but somehow in him.
Again, the Jewish authorities might have tolerated this, believing that like all the others, his message would die with him. The problem they had with Jesus was that the Kingdom he talked about looked nothing like the Kingdom the Jews were expecting. This both challenged them and undermined their authority.
They expected God to come in glory and majesty – a type of military coming where enemies would be destroyed, opponents punished, judgement meted out. But Jesus talked of a Kingdom where “love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you.” would rule. The Kingdom he talked of was for ‘the meek, ‘the peacemakers, ‘little children’.
They expected the Kingdom of God to be firstly for them. After all, they are the “chosen people”. The coming Kingdom would restore their Temple in Jerusalem, vindicate them, and punish their enemies once and for all. Yet Jesus talked of a Kingdom that was for all people. The ‘chosen people’, of course, but also the poor, the crippled, the sinful, the outcasts. What kind of Kingdom, those in power asked themselves, would it be where “the first will be last, and the last will be first”? This was dangerous and radical.
They expected a Kingdom based on the Law of Moses, with justice and peace guaranteed by adherence to the Law. Yet, Jesus talked about a Kingdom based on love and forgiveness. He seemed to emphasise this by breaking the Law himself when he felt Love and service demanded it. (“The sabbath is made for man; not man for the sabbath”). This could only lead to chaos, they felt.
They expected the coming Kingdom to be centered in the “new and eternal Jerusalem”, where God would live and reign in his Temple, as he had always done.
Yet, in some strange way, Jesus seemed to be increasingly seeing himself as the new Temple. God would live, not in a building of stone and wood, but in a living Temple. John 2:18-20 is clear: The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” [John 2:18-20])
A statement like this seemed to undermine the Temple itself. For the authorities, if Jesus was saying that somehow ‘HE was the new temple’, then that was blasphemy. Caiaphas, the High Priest concluded: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man dies for the people than that the whole nation perishes”.
Our Gospel today is a very powerful example of Jesus reminding his listeners that the Kingdom he talked about was radically different to what was expected. While it may appear to be about thankfulness and gratitude – and in one sense it is – the central message is, “…it seems no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.”
The Samaritans, for the Jews, were a group of people who could never have a part in the coming Kingdom of God. To be ignorant of God and never hear his Law was one thing; but to hear it and then reject most of it was so much worse. The Samaritans were Jews, accepting Abraham, Moses and the Prophets and living by the Law of Moses. But they had rejected the Temple in Jerusalem and had their own sacred places of worship. They were seen as renegades, traitors, and betrayers of the Temple. It is not too much to say that they were despised and hated.
For Jesus to highlight a Samaritan as the “only one” to return to say thanks, is to reverse everything believed about the Kingdom of God. For the Jews listening to Jesus the Samaritans would be first in line for judgement when the Kingdom of God arrived, and their punishment would be so much more severe because they knew the Law and rejected it.
Jesus is not accidentally mentioning the Samaritans. He does it several times, and each time it is the Samaritan who is the ‘good’, ‘just’, ‘righteous’, ‘compassionate’ person. The parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’, ‘the Woman at the Well’, are two other examples of Jesus revealing a Kingdom which is utterly different to that expected.
When Jesus talks about Samaritans he is saying very clearly, The Kingdom of God is for everyone; all will be welcome in this Kingdom.
It was St. Paul who later developed this aspect of the Kingdom of God, coming into conflict, at times, with the Apostles and other Jerusalem based Christian communities. In the Samaritan of today’s Gospel Jesus prepares for the time when his message will be taken to all corners of the world.
If we want to take a single message from this Gospel, it has to be tolerance of those who do not share our religious beliefs or values. God’s Kingdom is for everyone, not just those who think like we do. Jesus did not differentiate between Jews and Samaritans – he healed both, spoke to and listened to both.
In order to do this Jesus had to overcome his own prejudices and background. So must we, difficult though it might be to do that.
Conflicts, disagreements, wars, and disputes which have a Religious motive are directly contrary to the message of Jesus and the Gospels. The Kingdom of God, ushered in by Jesus, present among us through his death and resurrection, and kept alive through the Spirit is for everyone. We must never be in any doubt about that.