November 14, 2012 - Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Titus 3:1-7
Psalm 23:1-6
Luke 17:11-19

The words of Jesus in the Gospel today seem unfair. He tells the ten to go show themselves to the priests. Nine of them obey him, because as Jews they knew what that meant. They started walking to Jerusalem. One of them turns back, because he never would have been able to go into the temple anyway. As a Samaritan, he was certainly not welcome to show himself to a priest and go through the ritual cleansing. So he returns to Jesus.

Before, he stood at a distance. Now, he falls at his feet. Of course, Jesus is the true priest. The Samaritan has obeyed the command of Jesus because he has shown himself to the priest. But why does Jesus seem to complain about the other nine? He sent them on a mission, and they did not come back. For all we know they did exactly what he said. He is not criticizing them. He is criticizing the law. Nowhere in the law does it say that the lepers should thank God for their cleansing. It says that they should be sprinkled with bird blood, but it does not say that they should be grateful. It says to sleep outside for a week, but it does not say to be grateful.

Paul says in one place that he was blameless with respect to the Law, but here he says that “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hating ourselves and hating one another.” So, it is possible to follow the law to the T, and still be all that. God gave the Law, and it is good. Jesus did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. The point of the commandments was lost by those who followed them. The point of all that sacrifice was to thank God. The Samaritan, not knowing what he worships, is more free to give the natural human reaction and thank God for the healing.

There is talk right now of returning to meatless Fridays every Friday of the year. When they got rid of it 40 years ago, it was mostly because people had forgotten why they were doing it. It had lost its meaning. There a dozen very good reasons for returning to the tradition. If we do restart the practice, and I hope we do, it should be for those reasons and not just some rule we follow.