28th Sunday Year C

See Commentary on Luke 17:11-19

Homily 1 - 2010

I find today’s Gospel intriguing: Jesus’ comment to the Samaritan - Your faith has saved you.

What about the others? Their skin had been healed. They were back with their families and loved ones. They could work and earn a crust and no longer have to beg or go hungry. Their lives were back to normal. But saved? It seems that normality falls short of salvation. What is being saved, then? Being saved from normality?

What led Jesus to comment as he did to the Samaritan was that he had come back praising God and thanking Jesus. Praising God and thanking Jesus! What is so wonderful about that? It’s that question that has me pondering.

What had happened to him, inside him, that led him to praise God and to thank Jesus? He began to praise God. His healing had triggered something. He began to feel differently. He began to see life differently.

My thought is that somehow his life began to fall into perspective. His life began to have meaning, beyond the former narrow boundaries of everyday life of family and friends and work. There was more to everyday life than he had ever realised before. God was suddenly in it – or, perhaps, the God who had always been in it, he began to see for the first time: God in life. Perhaps, better, the Mystery in life: The things we do can take us beyond ourselves to something else, beyond ourselves.

Love and trust and hope, expressed in ordinary things, resonate out beyond us, into eternity, into mystery, into God. Indeed, they are what we shall take with us –all we take with us – when we step eventually from this life into the next.

As we live our lives, we make contact with mystery, with God. We begin to see that we draw our power to love, to trust, from somewhere beyond us. We see that we’re at home in the Universe. The world continues to evolve according to its evolutionary dynamics – things happen,good things, bad things. But in the midst of whatever happens, we find the mysterious power, somehow, to keep on loving, to keep on trusting, even in the dark and confusion, We keep going in everything that is authentically human.

We’re never alone. We matter. Our lives matter. We connect with God.As we open ourselves to recognise all this, to experience all this, we can’t but praise – not in words, so much, as in deep wonder, and gratitude and patience.

For the Samaritan leper, as Jesus healed him, the penny suddenly dropped. For the first time, he saw life in all its depths and in all its wonder. And he found himself freed up not just to praise God, but, in profound gratitude, to thank Jesus extravagantly, exuberantly.

People whose hearts beat consistently with wonder and praise find that thanking others flows spontaneously. The Samaritan’s life would never just be normal again. His faith – his new vision – had saved him.


Homily 2 - 2013

Today’s Gospel has triggered a sort of stream of consciousness reaction on my part.  All the lepers were healed; but something more happened to the Samaritan one, something that he probably did not realise.  Not only was he healed, but his faith had saved him.  His faith had saved him …  Did the Jewish lepers not have faith? Certainly the disciples, and any others around, would have presumed they did.  Jews were proud of their faith, proud of the unique purity of their faith.  Samaritans were the heretics.

Stand up, your faith has saved you!  What did Jesus mean when he said the Samaritan leper was saved – and that his faith had made the difference? Are there different kinds of faith? different levels of faith? Apparently.  What prompted Jesus’ observation was that the man turned back praising God at the top of his voice.  I think that faith has to do with relationship.  Perhaps it is better understood as trusting, even entrusting – like what two adults do when they truly love each other.  Perhaps being saved is what happens to me when I truly love God, truly trust God, truly entrust myself to God.

The Samaritan leper turned back praising God at the top of his voice, threw himself at the feet of Jesus, and thanked him.  He thanked Jesus.  He praised God.  I think that praising is a step beyond thanking.  When I thank another, there is a bit of me in the background: the other has done something for me – and so I thank her or him.  But praising focuses simply on the other, on the simple goodness, beauty and wonder of the other.  I let my self slip off the radar – and become fascinated by, absorbed in, the other.  From the joy of being healed, the leper went on to thank Jesus, and then got carried away beyond that to praise God.

I would love to be like that – to be carried away beyond myself and to be absorbed in the goodness of God.  And, according to Jesus, faith is the way.  I do not have to wait for it just to happen.  I can practise trusting God at any time, entrusting myself to God – sensitizing myself to the pervading presence of the goodness of God.  It is everywhere.  But I need enlightened eyes to see it.

A big obstacle to all that is an attitude growing in our culture that somehow we “deserve” what we have.  Do you notice the advertisements?  ‘You deserve what you have’; or, more likely, you deserve what you do not have – so need to buy.  I have read that a lot of the younger generation are growing up with a “sense of entitlement”: society owes “it” to them, whatever “it” is.  It is easy to point the finger.  I think we can all be infected to a certain degree.

A sense of entitlement is the opposite of the spirit of simple praise – praise of the goodness of the gifting God.  The sense of entitlement robs us of the sheer joy of recognising everything as gift.  It makes us envious, angry and eventually more unhappy.  Worse, it can lead us to think that others do not deserve what we have.  I often wonder if that is what is behind our national paranoia and obsession with our “sovereign borders”.

Praising the sheer goodness of God, the sheer gratuity of everything - flowing, as it does, from our growing capacity to trust God and to entrust ourselves to God – leads to the ever-deepening experience of being saved.  It was not only the Samaritan whom Jesus delighted to save.  He wants to save us – and names our faith as the key.

Eucharist means thanks.  And that is what we do as we gather.  But, as you have no doubt noticed, our thanks are shot through with praise.  “Through him, with him and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory is yours …"

Homily 3 - 2016

I hope that you are in a thoughtful mood this morning, because I would like to take you on a thoughtful expedition.

Let us start with Jesus’ comment to the cured Samaritan leper who returned to thank Jesus. After saying, “Stand up. Go on your way”, Jesus then added, “Your faith has saved you.” All up in Luke’s Gospel, there are three other occasions when Jesus explicitly says, “Your faith has saved you”. In two of them, he added the comment after he had cured people. They were the woman with the chronic issue of blood, and the blind man on the side of the Jericho road. The third instance was that of the sinful woman who had anointed Jesus’ feet, and of whom he had said to Simon the Pharisee, “Her sins must have been forgiven her, since she has loved so much.” No physical healing there at all. So salvation was obviously something other than physical healing. And in this one, all ten lepers were cured of their leprosy, but only of one did Jesus say, “Your faith has saved you”, and he was the one who had returned praising God and thanking Jesus.

So there is a distinction between being saved and being cured, though a cure can serve as a practical illustration of the deeper process of salvation that has taken place.

So, what might salvation mean? It is something that happens in this life, and no doubt carries on somehow into the next. In all four cases, Jesus associated the experience of salvation with the person’s response of faith. What is the connection? Is faith the means to, or condition for, salvation? Or might the experience of faith and the experience of salvation be the same thing? When Jesus uses the word faith, he does not mean knowing our catechism, having the correct answers, being orthodox. For Jesus, faith is trusting, trusting the other. It is entrusting oneself to... It is a relationship. A medieval author spoke of that relationship as “All that I am, just as I am, offered to all that you are, just as you are.” It is a self-emptying –  enabling a self-filling. It involves hope. It accompanies love.

My sense is that the experience of salvation is much the same. It is the experience of personal inner harmony, of profoundly fulfilling relationship – and all of it based on love. In this it would be the exact opposite to the experience of sin – which is that of deep alienation and hatred of everyone, of profound self-absorption and utter loneliness.

Perhaps the leper saw, not, Jesus cured me, rather, Jesus loved me. That is why Jesus could highlight his praising God and thanking Jesus. The leper’s focus was the Other, the goodness of God – to whom he related exuberantly.  Praising and loving are not all that different. At its purest, praise involves a fascination with the other, wonder at the sheer goodness of the other. Both include disregarding the self and transcending all self-interest. Giving thanks is much the same. It might start off from something first done to me, but then quickly moves to concentrate on the other.

Mary embodied the experience so beautifully, “My soul proclaims the glory of God and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour … because the Almighty has done great things for me – and holy is his Name.” Simply love; simply joy.

When praise becomes our spontaneous stance towards God, then we know we have become whole. Indeed, we are living the very life of the Trinity themselves, which is the total self-giving of each Person to the others, and through each other to us humans, to you and to me, and to the rest of creation, in truth and in love.

We cooperate with God in this wonderful enterprise of ongoing salvation as we warmly, unconditionally and with no exceptions relate to others; as we allow ourselves to grow in wonder; and as we deliberately take time to process the experience in meditative contemplation.


Homily 4 - 2019

To be a leper in Jesus’ day was to be pushed to the periphery, to be assiduously avoided, to be classified as sinner in a God-dominated world. To be a Samaritan may have been worse. That meant to be hated and labeled a heretic. To be a Samaritan leper was to be the lowest of the low. The other lepers with whom he associated may even have instinctively despised him. That a Samaritan leper front up to a Jewish priest, of all people, and expect him to declare him clean would have been totally unreal.

Yet alone of the ten, he returned to Jesus, ecstatically praising God and profusely thanking Jesus for healing him – more than that, for reinstating him, for treating him respectfully and for simply taking seriously his human dignity. It was of this man that, of only two or three other people in Luke’s gospel, Jesus commented, “Your faith has saved you.” In this case, the Samaritan had indicated his faith by his excited praising of God.

Let us use our imaginations and look more closely. I wonder if, over time, lepers in Israel might have tended to internalise the general attitude of their co-religionists and seen themselves as sinners, and interpreted their disability as indication that they were rejected, perhaps even punished, by God. In that case, this leper may have seen his healing as giving the lie to all that the culture had said of him. For no reason, God had healed him through Jesus.

God’s healing action had been totally gratuitous. What did that say of God? To the Samaritan leper, at least, it said that God loved him, that he was not worthless, that he must have had a dignity that he had not realized before. And in realizing that God loved him, and for no reason, perhaps he began to realize that God must be like that – that God just loves, that God loves both Samaritans and Jews, that God may even love everyone.

Once that breakthrough had been made, I wonder if he began to see life differently. Certainly, in this incident, he saw God’s hand at work through Jesus – and his spontaneous reaction was to thank Jesus lavishly. Did he begin to see the hand of God at work, I wonder, in other places and times where he had never noticed it before? I wonder if, after all this, his heart began to fill constantly with joyful praise as he increasingly saw and responded to God everywhere. Might that even be a dimension of the experience of salvation?

Jesus sadly asked about the other nine. They did the religious thing. They no doubt went to the local priest, who duly declared them cleansed of their leprosy. They were no doubt glad. Their lives would have been changed: No need to live rough outdoors. They could be reunited with their families and loved ones. They could get a job again. They could take their places once more in the synagogue. Somehow it seems they took it all for granted.

Can religion sometimes be like that? It inserts us into the story of redemption. It puts us in touch with the sacred, the marvellous. But in our security, we miss the excitement. We don’t bubble over with either gratitude or joyful praise. We are not generally noted for the smile on our face or the spring in our step.

What made it all happen, where it all started, for the Samaritan leper was precisely his disability. It could have been the same for the other nine. They got the healing. That was something. But they missed out on what could have been – the inner change, the inner growth enabling them to see God everywhere in life, and to rejoice.

Disability or serious illness often provide the context for breakthrough. So too can experiencing true love. A contemplative stance towards life can also open up to unexpected possibilities.


Homily 5 - 2022

The punch-line in today’s Gospel passage is Jesus’ observation about the Samaritan’s faith. It has had me thinking a lot during the week.

What singled out the Samaritan from the other nine persons who had also been physically “cleansed” was that, in his case, his “faith had saved” him — and Jesus saw that as something altogether more wonderful. Jesus highlighted the difference between what the Samaritan’s own faith had done for him and the mere “cleansing” from physical illness that Jesus had wrought in all ten. The difference? Being saved was an internal, spiritual experience of becoming more “whole”.

What emphasised that personal difference was the Samaritan’s proceeding to “praise God” and “to thank” Jesus. There is a highly significant difference between being simply healthy, or getting physically well after sickness, and being at peace with the world and wanting to praise and to thank others where appropriate. How many among our contemporaries are physically healthy yet anything but at peace within themselves [and all that “being at peace” conveys]?

What was the experience of the “other nine” that their failure to return might have high-lighted? Whatever their moving around together might have indicated, I wonder if they were friends, and could enjoy each other’s company; how much they helped each other; whether they could happily share with each other whatever food came their way. If not, they were anything but personally, spiritually, whole.

It is interesting that wherever we find in the Gospels the word translated as “saved”, it could equally accurately be translated as “made whole”. To become “whole” required more than Jesus’ action. Though invariably requiring Jesus’ caring, loving intervention, it also needed personal cooperation. It needed faith, as Jesus so often commented. And “faith” simply means “trust”. People need to be aware of Jesus’ caring love in order to trust — and that trust or faith calls for a real “freeing up” on people’s part.

We will not trust anyone in anything that really matters unless we also intuit their love and care for us personally. With that freeing up enabled by our trusting, and particularly with our believing the wonderful love that God has for us, also comes a renewed capacity really to enjoy life more. It releases us from our self-absorption and enables us to be genuinely thankful as well, to be able and open to see the giftedness of each other and so to praise freely where praise is due.

So many people lack the freedom even to be able to chance themselves trustfully to God at all. For some, life has been so cruel, or they have felt so unsupported or unloved, that they cannot really trust anyone. Any sense others may have picked up of God from peers or from the surrounding culture can be so distorted, or simply inadequate, that they ignore, even dislike, God. That grieves me. Sadly, their reaction is not rare. It explains so much of the hostility abroad in the world. Hostility seems contagious. Violence breeds violence. The world we live in is not a spontaneously happy world. We need salvation so much.

I sometimes wonder what the experience will be when eventually we graduate from earthly life to eternal life, and see God as God really is, and know and experience God’s love face to face? Could anyone still not love and trust that God with utter freedom and joy?

We don’t know in any detail what salvation will be like in heaven. But from my limited, finite, experience of its beginnings already here on earth, I am starting to think it can’t come soon enough. In the meantime, let us try to open ourselves to its earthly possibilities in the hope that life on earth becomes ever more liveable for everyone.