In today's Gospel, the Samaritan, a man of negative status in a group we presume to be predominantly Jewish, is paradoxically the one to return in praise and thanksgiving. But first, I must say something about the background to the anguish that all of them vented.
All those whom Jewish priests attested had skin diseases were isolated by them from society to prevent contagion. They were deprived of the support and comforts society gave, and excluded from the sacrificial worship the law prescribed, debarred from ritual supplication of God. (Lev 13:45-46)
In such plight these lepers close upon Jesus:
Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
The prayer of petition pleads for needs to be met, for blessings from God whose hands hold all life.
Jesus sends them away to obtain certification of cleanliness. For a while trust in Jesus is tested as their petition seems without effect. There is no guarantee that what prayer seeks will come in the time or the way envisaged. The lepers turn in obedience, their trust in Jesus validated when on their way sores and disfigurement left, and they could present their healing to authorities to reverse their social exclusion.
They surely were thankful; the account cannot plausibly be read that in their cleansing they were indifferent to the source it came from. Their physical disfigurement over, they went on to the priests as Jesus commanded.
The Samaritan among them had a prior commitment before a prescribed ritual duty. Together with loud praise of God he turned back in an ecstatic gratitude of prostration before Jesus. The Lord had a response:
Your faith has made you well.
The others had physical healing, as did the Samaritan. But the Samaritan had the fullness of the inner healing which is salvation.
What was the content of the Samaritan's faith? It was surely the acknowledgment of the saving action of God at work in Jesus, expressed in his outpoured praise and thanksgiving. Those who were simply cured, glad though they were, lacked the salvation, the inner healing, that this man gained.
This was evidenced by his praise and thanksgiving when he returned to Jesus, who was the agent of physical healing and of his spiritual healing. That is the punch line: the Samaritan, doubly an outsider within the afflicted Jewish group, was the only one whose paean of praise and thanksgiving revealed a total cure.
There seem to be few Samaritans surviving today in the Holy Land. But are there not many who feel themselves outsiders within what is overall regarded as normative society?
They are those who feel themselves discriminated against and to some extent on the margins, longing for rescue and affirmation. There are the physically infirm and the psychologically disturbed, whose suffering can be discerned with empathic recognition and often alleviated. Beyond them are others, for instance sexual and ethnic minorities, and asylum-seekers, who feel themselves by prevailing sentiment of little account, excluded or denigrated. Such 'Samaritans' have to regard themselves as unheroic outsiders within a contemptuous, dismissive humanity.
The prior religious beliefs of the Samaritan in the Gospel are unstated. Maybe disfigurement had in rebellion distanced him from God until his fellow-sufferers brought him with them to Jesus. It was the miracle of Jesus' healing that brought him to Jesus' feet, the healing of any anguish of mind, even despair, that found outpouring in praise and gratitude.
You and I may take on the Samaritan characteristics of exclusion from the majority and trudge on in life more or less devoid of awareness that all we are and have comes from God. Our relationship to God is ambivalent: blessed to a degree; blessed insufficiently. So our prayer may be feeble.
Jesus, the Son of God, denigrated in his Passion and on the cross, feeling dereliction then, calls for us all in all circumstances to acknowledge 'Thy will be done'.
Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
Pray for what we feel we need, which must include pardon. And in all prayer present the Father and Jesus with thanksgiving and praise, after the fashion of the Samaritan. So faith is conceived, comes alive, heals within, as we bear some likeness to the cross of Jesus.
So we have energy and courage for the journey. Our wrestling with God in faith makes us whole, as God would have it be. Plead - plead in praise and, yes, in thanksgiving.