October 8, 2016
“But the other nine, where are they?” (Lk 17:17)
Perhaps they never really saw themselves as sick. They were just temporarily under a cloud called leprosy. They did not reflect on their disease and its physical, social and spiritual ramifications, or at least, not sufficiently so as to come to understanding and acceptance. They were experts at kicking against the goad, roaming about in their exile with bitterness that their own personal life plans should have been so disrupted. Perhaps they still dreamed of marriage and descendants, economic success and social prestige. No doubt the Samaritan had such dreams too, but there was something different in him, something deeper than cultural identity, which became clear only when the impossible happened, and they were cured.
For those of us who see ourselves as whole and healthy, sickness is an aberration, an insult, a curse. Who can endure it? There is little else to do but endure. But one can endure with bitterness or with acceptance. And what happens when deliverance comes, whether medical or miraculous, and a person is restored to health, strength, social integration and independence? For the nine, this is a return to normalcy. After an initial high, they forget almost immediately what it was like to be sick. They resume their life of comfort, success and supposed immortality. Seven fat cows swallow the seven scrawny ones without leaving a trace. These persons have not been saved, but only allowed to fall back into routine, unaffected and so ungrateful.
How is the Samaritan different? Perhaps he allowed himself to be educated by suffering and the approach of death. Like those whom hardship, loneliness or tragedy has touched and transformed from the inside out, he no longer lives the illusion of wholeness and self-sufficiency. Like the anonymous addict, he knows he will always be in recovery, never secure within the fortress of self-control. He is weak, vulnerable and in need of support from outside himself. He is grateful because he does not feel entitled to good health, physical comfort and social acceptance, but recognizes these as gifts he is continually receiving. Because he has learned to accept diminishment and has looked death in the face, he knows what it means to be saved. He is saved, not from physical diminishment and death, which will come to him as to all human beings, but from the diminishment and death of the spirit.
Now this Samaritan belongs to the one who gives life and takes it away, and he hears God speaking in everything that happens, whether pleasant or unpleasant. He is a foreigner, or, in other words, a transformed person.