We don't talk much about the OTHER "Good Samaritan."
One of the strangest things about this story is how Christians tend to stop short of actually pointing out what it has to say.
For that reason, you could say it sits alongside something like the Transfiguration as the kind of gospel event we're quite familiar with – even though we never seem to focus much on its significance. As with many gospel miracles, we might be invested simply because of the miraculous nature of things, and yet remain completely detached from their ramifications, or dwelling on those ramifications as a part of honoring the story... But we must remember that miracles are not isolated things - they have a context in which they occur. They speak to that context. And if we listen to how they speak in that context, it becomes easier to hear what they might still have to say.
For instance, in the first century, the idea of a miracle accompanying what a teacher was saying or doing was a means of validating his message... So then, to be unable to see beyond the miracle would be to miss the message, right? It would be like observing the verification or proof of a point without observing the point itself.
Christians have grown fairly comfy with this very thing - this preoccupation with the miracle, while potentially missing the subject in all its fascinating and subversive beauty. Where a first century Jew (or even a non-Jew) would have read this sort of story and naturally looked for the connective tissue between Jesus' miracles and the situations they accompanied, Christians have taken to reading things in a more disconnected fashion. As a result, we have become more likely to paint ourselves a Jesus who performs miracles with an air of detachment himself. A gather-around-for-my-next-trick Jesus. Fundamentally:
You have a Jesus who does magic to entertain us, but seldom leaves us reeling to absorb the shock of WHY.
This, in and of itself, is telling.
To be clear up front, I'm not diminishing the beauty or meaning of healing on its own. Not at all. All ten of those healed experienced something priceless in being healed that day, and it would have meant the world to them. Also, Jesus performed plenty of general healings in the gospels without lessons being attached to them.
...However, this is not one of those times. And when a passage like the one above so clearly has a lot to say, and that goes ignored because it makes us uncomfortable, it's worth pointing out. Because no matter how passionately you go about it, if you make this story of ten who were healed into a story about more generally "being thankful for God's healing" ...Well, you don't need this story for that at all. If that's the point, then most of this passage becomes non-essential detail.
And if you make it a story for Christians about "thanking Jesus," but stop short of that looming Temple in the background (or foreground, as it were) in all its marvelous implication... You are trying to champion the application apart from its radical scandal. Unwrapping the story in these ways lacks the dangerous traction that Jesus' own words pushed to ensure.
So what am I driving at? What could be going on here in the text that so compellingly breaks down our tepid versions of the story? It is simply this: Jesus clearly expected that more than one of those healed should recognize what had happened. And he clearly felt it reasonable to expect that more than one of them should return to him...
To "turn back and give praise to God."
...Rather than continuing on to the Temple in Jerusalem.
...Even though he had instructed them to go to the Temple.
...Even though the Temple is precisely where people go to "praise God."
Wait, what? Are we beginning to see something deeper take shape yet? Jesus is suggesting something. We're supposed to be left asking questions. We're supposed to be left considering the message which the miracle gave so much gravity to. So what's the message? Maybe this:
The closer they got to that Temple, the less they should have felt like they needed to go.
A lot of Christians minimize or overlook this, but it's kind of a huge deal, isn't it? Jesus clearly doesn't think they actually needed to go to the Temple. That's not a small detail; he's making a major point. A point that, even in their healing, nine of them miss. Of course, some will say that Jesus allowed the Jews to go to their Temple, and received the Samaritan as a sign of God's growing embrace... But sorry, that's simply not what Jesus says is happening. Jesus isn't directing the nine Jews to Moses, and making room for the Samaritan like some sort of "2nd Place" concession prize. Jesus is directing all ten people to himself. As equals. He's not maintaining two covenants - he is championing the New. And he's already said that true worship is not about being here or there, in the Temple or some other place made by humans to connect with God... But true worship is in spirit and in truth. In us reflecting God as the Divine presence indwells and sustains us. The true temple of God, then, is like the kingdom of God. It's in us. In our midst. That's the New Testament reality which has shattered religion all over the world (and needs to shatter much of Christianity too).
So then Jesus directed them to the Temple in order to call them away from it?
Yes. Away from its centrality to their lives. Its dominance of their faith. Its capitalizing on their view of God. Its power over how they believed God must be known and approached. Its controlling influence over their experience of God... Jesus told them to go to the Temple specifically so that, on the way, they could turn back.
So then, in setting up their return to him, Jesus was telling them that they should praise God in the same manner that was available to the Samaritan?
Yes. Granted, it's not the most efficient way to instruct on this point, sure, but it's highly poetic and prophetic in a way that only Jesus could deliver.
Jesus was telling them that everyone has equal access to God in him. Therefore, their view of themselves as privileged had expired.
The Divine light was not ahead of them in the Temple, but in the unassuming Rabbi of no earthly grandeur. Jesus' light shone behind them, casting the Temple in its true light... by casting it in their own shadow.
But that is a hard lesson for a lot of us to learn, isn't it?
"Was no one found to turn back and give praise to God except this non-Jew?" ...It's an interesting question that Jesus begins to frame. Since the Temple was precisely the kind of place a Jew would think he needed to be in order to "give praise to God," we find that Jesus is conscientiously defying that expectation, because Jesus doesn't find the Temple to be necessary for that purpose at all. And that's his right as "Lord," isn't it? ...Or do we continue to *hush* Jesus in order to maintain a glossier view of the very things he criticized?
Then there's that tenth guy...
The Samaritan was right there with Jesus. He recognized the Source. Upon seeing what had happened and that he had been healed, he didn't go groveling before the same institution that never wanted to take him as he was anyway, leprous or not... No, he turned around. He went against the prescription because he had already experienced healing outside of it... He "got it." And that left him wanting to be with Jesus.
Him. A Samaritan. A halfbreed. A heretic... An Outsider.
To this day, it's often the case that only an Outsider can see clearly like that.
Insiders are too concerned with lawful prescriptions, with rites and rituals, and with "This is how we've always done it!" Insiders can spend time with God incarnate and still go running back to the Temple where they believe God's presence resides... And why? Because Insiders tend to have a hard time recognizing the presence of God where it is. Or even when they do, they still find it scary and untameable, and prefer the safe embrace of the known. Insiders dismiss the wondrously reckless presence of God. They're always trying to manufacture and maintain it. Always trying to replicate what has been. Always looking to control it. (Not here. Not now. Somewhere else I'm used to. Some other time I'm comfortable with.)
Insiders are still so uncomfortable with the prophetic promise of the Spirit of God poured out on all flesh that they gather each week into a room - which, contrary to the New Testament, is often dangerously maintained and referred to as though it was a temple - and invite God to be there. They invite a God... who is already everywhere... to be there. For many Insiders, that's all there is. Anything outside of that realm, they can't find the real "praise" in. They can't find Jesus outside of the institution attempting to own his name. It's too risky.
Insiders are too stuck in the rut of rusty religion - too caught up in tradition and special observances. And this makes it hard to see beyond...
- Their own experience.
- Their own history.
- Their own privilege.
It makes it hard to see why the "Samaritans" in their midst might have a harder time benefiting from their System, or why those same Samaritans might be doing something which is actually closer in essence to the Source than they are.
Being an insider makes it hard to see anything beyond whatever you can harness in relation to God.
For the nine, this even includes a System which literally had no room for them yesterday. A System which would have told them they were too blemished to participate. These nine couldn't be allowed in the Temple until their outward appearance matched with religious expectation... But once it did, we find that they push right on back into the place they can now belong again. Though before they would have been deemed "unclean" (through no fault of their own, and beyond their control), now they could be recognized as technically "clean" again – and we can only assume they were fine with that. They didn't challenge this shallow and superficial labeling of people, least of all themselves. But Jesus' lament shows that he felt it was right to expect them to. He expected them to see that they had been equally leprous with the Samaritan, and equally healed.
They should have followed the Samaritan back as equals, too... but they didn't. And they didn't follow him because, despite all their shared experience , they hadn't truly embraced their shared humanity. Jesus expected them to make that connection: to see that they were on the same level as those their people marginalized. He expected them to grasp that their temple did not make them better than other people, and certainly didn't make them closer to God.
So they've been healed, and yet they've learned nothing from their time on the margins. They were rescued by Jesus outside of the System they had always known... But, rather than turn back to the Source of their healing, they ran into the familiar arms of the Temple and its priests. Back into the comfort of inclusion, and all without regard for those still being excluded.
And a lot of Christians today do the same thing.
And so the story becomes an indictment: Not only of that System, but of those running to it.
They spend time away from the Christianity of their origin – out on the margins with normal people. They share in whatever hurt and pain and brokenness those people know, and they see that none of us is so very different from anyone else, or so very far from God... But you'll notice that these same people often abandon all that real human intimacy once they're ready to jump through the hoops, and clean up their outward appearance, and go running back to the safety of religion as they've known it. They learn nothing from the alienation they experienced from the Inside, and nothing from the people they knew on the Outside.
Closeness to the Institution, for many of us, becomes the same thing as closeness to God. God is withholding unless we're there. It's just so much easier to be accepted, and to forget all the Outsiders left behind. So much easier to retreat to the smaller God of the old Temple... Over, and over, and over again.
They were thankful for the margins and the Outsiders when they needed them, but ran back into the arms of ease and privilege - and the isolation and selfish safety of the bubble - as soon as they could.
Like so many other things Jesus said and did, this story of healing has many dimensions.
As with music, the tonic is understood because of the interplay it has with other notes, chords, overtones, harmonics, or whatever else accompanies it. The relationship between a subject and its dance with the objects swarming around it is not only where the real beauty lies, but also how we know what the root of a musical structure is. So music is found in the tensions and implications of that "negative space" between all its varied parts, and the sort of light and shadow they cast on the tonic. The root.
And the Source, the tonic of THIS story, is Jesus in relationship to the Temple, or any temple. That's the big message. It is not the miraculous healings surrounding and ratifying that message. The message itself is of God's wondrously reckless presence available to all. Even those who are outside our most beloved structures and institutions. Even those who weren't just temporarily "unclean," but who never belonged.
The Source of illumination behind this story carries with it major implications which could challenge modern Christianity as we know it. They could challenge Christianity as surely as they did ancient Judaism.
Could it be that we often experience our greatest healings outside and beyond the comprehension of our temples? Our safe and revered institutions? Could it be that recognizing the true Source, and turning back to celebrate it means finding Jesus - even in the unexpected places?
The heart of God in healing us brings some of us back to the Source of a God who is always and everywhere... Even when many of those healed run away to hide in the shadows.