God's salvation: widespread, inclusive
By Denise Simeone
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October, 10, 2004
2 Kings 5:14-17
2 Timothy 2:8-13
The Gospels are full of short powerful stories of Jesus' deeds and witness. Indeed even Jesus' parables were often short sentences or brief paragraphs with a forceful impact for his listeners. Today's reading from Luke for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time is a masterful story. In just 144 words Luke has set forth striking images for his community of Jesus' healing, his message of inclusion and the power of faith.
The story begins with Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, a journey we have been reminded about this liturgical year since the Thirteenth Sunday. Jerusalem was the destiny. It was the goal, the focus of Jesus teaching, preaching and healing yet it was the path that would lead to the cross. In Jerusalem Jesus' life and ministry would lead to his suffering and death and ultimate resurrection. All that Jesus had done led there. Jesus' proclamation of the saving reign of God was inclusive and universal, and in Jerusalem salvation would be achieved for all of humanity.
This Gospel story shows the wideness of God's salvation by including as a witness to faith an enemy of the Israelites, God's chosen People - a Samaritan. Luke reminded Jesus' followers that they were to go forth to proclaim the Good News to all people and that Jerusalem was the inevitable road for all disciples.
Lepers, considered unclean and a potential threat of "contamination" to someone coming into contact with them inadvertently, were to wear bells or to yell "unclean, unclean" as they walked so others would be warned. We can imagine what the feelings of one of these unfortunate pariahs might have been. Not only were they afflicted with an illness, but also they were ostracized by their own community and made to live outside the boundaries of their people. Their ties to their people were broken; their own kinsfolk believed that they could pollute the rest of the community by their presence. They were outcasts and separated from the very life that gave meaning to them - a life within their community.
Ten lepers approached Jesus not calling out "unclean, unclean" but "Jesus, Master!" Jesus was implored by name only three times in the Gospels: by the blind man at Jericho, by the thief on Calvary and by the 10 lepers. In addition Luke is the only evangelist to use this title "Master" when referring to Jesus, and then it was only used by the disciples: by Peter when he caught the large haul of fish, by the disciples at the Transfiguration and by the fearful disciples in their boat in a storm. Clearly calling Jesus' name and naming him Master are unusual occurrences.
Jesus sent the 10 lepers to the priests to be cleansed; on the way they were healed. Yet only one of them realizing he was healed, returned, glorified God, fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The climax of the story for the listeners: the one who returned to give gratitude and praise was a Samaritan, an enemy. All 10 lepers showed faith in obeying Jesus, but in returning to show gratitude the Samaritan, who was doubly an outcast because he was also an enemy, acknowledged God's saving action. Jesus announced God's reign once again by having a Samaritan proclaim God's salvation to the world. God's power and inclusive saving grace crossed all boundaries.
Jesus knew well what his community and religious authorities taught; he was not to associate with the unclean or the outcast for fear of becoming impure himself. Yet time and again Jesus ignored these restrictions of safe behavior. The boundaries that drew narrow margins for God's saving action did not exist for the God of whom he preached either. He ate with sinners. He talked with women. He touched the sick. He associated with the crowds and the poor. All of these were untouchable for a devout Jewish male.
He knew the boundaries and yet he crossed them, pointing to a new way to see the reign of God unlike anything preached about by many of his own religious authorities. There were no outcasts, no one outside the boundaries of God's mercy and compassion. For the poor and outcast this was good news. They had a place in the reign of God.
What safe behavior might we have to consider as we build the reign of God? Who is unclean or untouchable to us? Who do we call outcast or consider beyond our boundaries? It is not surprising that Jesus' radical message of inclusion was considered treasonous, subversive and dangerous. It is no wonder it led to the cross. This reign of God with no boundaries that includes one's enemies, outcasts, and the unclean is terrifying.
Denise Simeone is the director of the diocesan Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry.