What a simple, pithy story. Ten lepers are healed, and only one gives thanks. As a mum I’m often hissing ‘what do you say? ‘ to my kids when we are out shopping. Failure to say thank you goes against the grain of basic good manners. Did you notice that the one who did thank Jesus was a Samaritan?
During October the Anglican church throughout the whole country focused on penal reform, on praying for the justice system, for prisoners, their families, their victims, and those otherwise involved with the care and rehabilitation of prisoners. It’s easy to think of people in prison as being somehow not like us. To regard the prison population as being largely of another race, another social grouping, and not to truly regard their humanity. Today’s story about the lepers brings out the theme of challenging the listener to regard the outsider, in this case the Samaritan, who is from the hated next-door country, as a real person, and not less-than-human.
It’s easy to be scared of people who are not like us.
Last year I was running a sausage sizzle with my daughter, who was about eleven, as we fundraised for her to go to Girl Guides Jamboree. Lots of people came and bought sausages – they were your usual crowd outside Harvey-Norman. Families, different races, all having a leisurely Saturday. But then a patched gang member came up. My daughter got really frightened, as she had never met a gang member before. This fellow asked for his sausage, he said, please and thank you, and was really polite! In fact he was our most polite customer of the day. He spoke so respectfully as he requested his sauces and onions. It was quite a surprise to my daughter, who had expected him to be rough and scary.
The shock she got was probably just like the shock Jesus’ audience got when they heard that the only person who had behaved appropriately, in gratitude for his healing, was one of that lot over there, the hated other.
For many of us the prison population are like the hated other – in prison because of what they have done, that they deserve to be there.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that no one needs to be in prison, just that we as Christians need to take up the challenge Jesus offers us in the Gospel, and see the Other as fully human, loving all prisoners, their families, their victims, and praying for a godly system of justice and rehabilitation for our society. We can all do that.