One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back. He glorified God with a loud cry and he fell at his feet thanking him. And this man was a Samaritan. Jesus responded, “Were not ten people cleansed? Where are the other nine? Were none found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?” He said to him, “Get up. Go. Your faith has saved you.”
Luke 17: 15-19
Today’s story of the healing of the ten lepers and the gratitude of the Samaritan leper is a bridge story between Jesus’ teaching on faith as gift rather than cause for status in the preceding verses and Jesus’ pointing out to the Pharisees that the kingdom is all around them in the verses that follow. In this context, it summons us to reflect on how the disposition of gratitude is perhaps the core expression of the life of faith.
What does it mean to us to “have faith.” Perhaps, it is to live and to act out of the profound experience and conviction that our life is not merely our own, that it is a gift to us and for the world, and that we, therefore, are responsible to the One whose gift we are.
In yesterday’s gospel we heard Jesus tell us that our work in life is not to be a matter of pride, but rather it is to be an expression of our faith. Perhaps one of the greatest manifestations of human fallenness is that we are prone to arrogate to ourselves special status or entitlement due to our faith. We begin to separate out the “chosen” or the “many” from the all. We tend to look down on those who, for one reason or another, lack our level of enlightenment. Perhaps worst of all, we, who have nothing we have not been given, begin to behave as “masters” over others, when we are but “useless servants.”
In the verses that follow today’s gospel, we shall hear Jesus tell the Pharisees that the kingdom of God is all around them, while they are unable to recognize it. In today’s gospel we see the kingdom made manifest in the gratitude of the doubly outcast leper who is also a Samaritan. The story challenges us to ask ourselves today, where is the kingdom being manifest and are we able to recognize it? We live in a secular age, an age in which unbelief is now an aspect of the consciousness of all of us, believers as well as non-believers. How do we, who live in this age but with the humble gratitude of faith, recognize and serve the presence of the Kingdom in that world? Jesus did not live an oppositional life to the outsiders and foreigners. He was present to, touched, and healed anyone who had “faith.” Clearly faith as he understood it was not the conventional beliefs of his own tribe. It was, rather, a recognition of one’s neediness and dependence, and especially a grateful and generous response to the gift of life and life in all the ways it is given.
It is gratitude and humble service that are the signs and expressions of faith. One’s faith is not a mark of status, but rather an impulse to become ever more a servant of the One whose love is “over all and in all and living through all” (Eph. 4: 6).
In life we have to struggle so much against the temptations that try to distance us from this attitude of service. Laziness leads to ease: half-hearted service; taking control of the situation, and to becoming master instead of servant, which leads to arrogance, pride, treating people badly, to feeling important, “because I am a Christian, I have salvation”, and so many things like this. The Lord gives us these two great graces: humility in service, in order to be able to say, “We are unprofitable servants — but servants, until the very end and hope while waiting for the manifestation”; until the Lord will come to us.
Pope Francis, Homily, 11/12/14