Jesus, continuing his journey to Jerusalem, comes upon ten lepers, and from a distance hears their plea for help, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” He instructs these outcastes from society to go and show themselves to the priests. On the way, they are cleansed of their leprosy. One of them, a Samaritan, returns glorifying God, and falls at the feet of Jesus in gratitude. Jesus remarks, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then to the Samaritan, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
As always in the teaching of Jesus, it is faith that will determine whether we identify with the nine who are cured but not saved, or with the Samaritan who is both cured and saved. All ten lepers are healed. They all experience their return to health and to membership in the community as a good thing. However, only the Samaritan, with the intuition of faith, recognizes the good thing to be a gift of God, and acts upon that intuition. He glorifies God, and returns to thank Jesus whom he recognizes as an agent of God’s presence and compassion.
In the language of later theology, the Samaritan’s faith enabled him to see with sacramental vision. Without the vision of faith, one can experience countless good things—the wonders of the universe through the eyes of science; the ability to hear, to see, to speak, to feel; a return to health from an illness. But it is only with the intuition of faith that one can experience these good things as gifts of God. Through faith they become symbols or sacraments of the personal exchange of love—God’s self-giving to us, and our grateful response in word and deed. Because the Samaritan entered into that personal exchange of divine love and human gratitude, Jesus said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” To possess health, or for that matter any other good thing of this earth, in the judgment of Jesus is not to be saved.
Faith of course must not be restricted to recognizing a good thing as God’s gift only in the miracle moments of life. Rather, as Saint Paul tells us, faith means to live in the awareness of the divine presence as a way of life, “giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Eph 5:20). My favorite part of the Talmud (“Berakhot”) illustrates this essential aspect of the biblical tradition by giving examples when a faithful person will bless God in gratitude: “on seeing the ocean, on seeing the first tree blossom in the spring, on seeing a friend after six months, on hearing a sage, on receiving good news, on receiving bad news.”
Each Sunday, like the Samaritan, we return to celebrate the Eucharist in gratitude for all the gifts that God has showered upon us as individuals and as a community. With a sacramental vision of faith, we hear the words of the bible as the gift of God’s Word to us; we believe that the people around us are the church, the Body of Christ; we affirm the bread and wine truly to be the Risen Lord, the Father’s ultimate gift to us. And with hearts lifted up in faith we can pray, “Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.