He commanded them to go as being already healed so that they might bear witness to the priests, the rulers of the Jews and envious of his Glory. - Cyril the Alexandrian
“The kingdom of God: in your midst it is now.” It is a strange answer Jesus gives to the Pharisees who have come to ask him when the messianic kingdom will finally come. It is here. (Lk 17:20- 21) No reason to run around any longer.
In this spirit, Jesus has sent nine ex-lepers to the temple. Only, they are no longer lepers. They are healed. Jesus, being headed to Jerusalem, is sending a notice to the temple: Something is on the way. He knows they will not grasp the sign. It is not the point of the healing or the sending. ”It will not come with signs,” he tells the Pharisees who inquire in eschatological zeal for signs that they can agree are indeed signs. Remember, they think they know Torah better than Jesus. They probably have specific signs in mind. Jesus is not one of those signs as far as they are concerned. What Jesus sends to the temple is a message akin to what he sent to John the Baptist. (7:22-23) Here is a sign: Lepers are being made clean. Therefore, all ye who yet have eyes to see, know that the kingdom is here. When the son of Man comes in his day it will be like a flash. But the kingdom is here now. One should perceive it if in faith one understands the kingdom. (12:56)
The nine are also a message for those who do righteousness. They fulfill the Law of Moses by having the matter adjudicated by the temple as they should. (Lev 13) They do the work of the law, which they should as servants of God. What they have done was their duty. (Lk 17:8) But something is missing. The law can make you do the right thing but it cannot make our hearts give thanks and praise. (sacramental reference purely intentional) Only Holy Ghost and Faith can do that. At least that is what Paul teaches.
Look at it in the light of the parable of the master and the servant we read last week. There the servant is urged not to expect reward for doing what is expected of him. On the other hand, neither will there be praise and thanksgiving from the servant for getting to do what is expected. Only when the servant, here played by the Samaritan, realizes that the master has done extraordinary grace, way beyond and apart from what wages were agreed upon, will that happen and even then he has to grasp it apart from obedience to what is next. A different attitude, a different mind, is required. In that state of mind, God owes nothing but gives all things so everything ought to be an occasion to give thanks and praise. It is right, meet, and salutary that one do exactly that.
There is no reward for being an ex leper, other than, well, you are no longer an outcast. You no longer stand at a distance. You no longer stand at a distance at the temple — if you are a Jew that is. Who stands at the greater distance? The out-cast lepers who call on Jesus for mercy knowing their plight or the Pharisees who are "in-casts" but insist on their righteousness? The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector will soon follow. (18:9-14)
The distances change as the story progresses. At first, the ten lepers are close to one another. Then, something happens to their common bond. When they realize it, distance between them develops. The Samaritan does not belong any longer. He is now an outsider. The healing of their infirmity has made him that. A community has been shattered. Together they could beg for mercy knowing the desperate nature of their condition. Healed they now can no longer travel together. And this makes sense?
If one is a Pharisee, I suspect it does. That is their disease and keeping distance is the lesion that is their disease’s common symptom. If you forgive a bunch of sinners their sin will they rejoice and give praise together or will they merely find ways to be out-cast and in-cast together and apart? Once you answer this, you might be able to map how far you stand at distance from the Lord. Can you see the pharisees from where you stand? I thought so.
When the nine come to the door, their sins forgiven, how will they be divided? Will we pick out a few of them because they were such great sinners, had such a colorful life in sin, have just so many neat tattoos, that we make sure to ask them to wear tank tops at worship so we can be proud of their past because it reflects ever so well on us for having received them? Will we rejoice in the kingdom in our midst and give praise or will we be Jerusalem Priests, bureaucrats that compile the list of forgiven sins and exact the require “thank offering”?
Middle eastern culture has a saying: “Don’t thank me, you will repay me later.” Accepting a thank offering on the other hand is a way to say: “Yes, we are even. We owe one another no more.” But what if this story is not about giving thanks but about giving praise to God because the kingdom is now here? What if there is no sin offering, no thank offering fit to even the score? The Samaritan had no place to offer one. Neither do we. Our sacrifice is thanks and praise. (sacramental reference intentional)