Summary: The importance of gratitude and humility.
We all know about the good Samaritan, but how many of us have heard of the grateful Samaritan? We are going to meet him today, but firstly I want to tell you about my friend Allen. Allen was quite different from most people. To have called him unconventional would have been an understatement, and to have called him an eccentric outcast would not have been much of an exaggeration.
Allen eschewed many social and legal conventions, and sometimes this got him into trouble with the authorities. His happy-go-lucky (and occasionally opportunistic) nature frustrated his friends and family on many occasions. I especially remember the time when I came home to find that Allen had broken into my house and moved his dog Pirate and himself into a spare room. Already, that room was redolent with that unique combination of aromas of stale tobacco, dog, salt water, boat engine, old socks and other odours best left unidentified that seemed to accompany Allen wherever he went.
Although I was not exactly overjoyed, I did not throw Allen out, but let him stay. If it had been anybody else, I may well have reacted very differently, but this was Allen. For all his annoying habits, Allen was a very special person. Even though I never heard him apply any specific labels of religious affiliation to himself, he was a very spiritually aware person, far more so than many more conventional people who looked down on people like him. His tendency to get himself into trouble at times did not diminish the genuine care he showed for others. More than most people, Allen managed to put into practice some of the more demanding teachings of the gospels when it came to sharing possessions, caring for others and showing gratitude.
Although he had little, Allen gladly shared what he had with others. If he was ever worried about his own needs being compromised, he did not show it.
Even though his mere presence could be embarrassing at times (especially when he had a few tots of rum inside him), Allen could eloquently deal with situations that most of us would find awkward, and do so with the simplest of gestures. I recall the occasion when my dog was ran over. Without having been asked, Allen dug a large hole for him at the bottom of my garden and left a single rose on his body. Nobody but Allen would have thought of doing that.
Allen lived modestly, and was always grateful for what he received. He was a keen sailor; in fact, he was only ever truly happy when he was on the water. I once gave him a mast that had been left under my house by a previous owner. The joy and gratitude he expressed was like that of a small child at Christmas.
After he finally moved out of my place, he went to live on his yacht that was moored in Onepoto Channel in Porirua Harbour. He lived off the sea and the land to a considerable degree, and he was always thankful for their great abundance. You could call Allen many things, but you could never call him ungrateful.
Today’s gospel reading about the ten lepers told the story of some other outcasts, who lived 2,000 years earlier. Being a leper in Jesus’ day meant having to live removed from normal society. We can imagine but we can never really know what it must have been like to have had to live outside the city walls, to have had to keep a good distance from others (Luke 17:12), and to have had to shout “unclean” whenever anybody was approaching.
Being a leper was also such a horrible fate that it broke down other barriers amongst those who were commonly afflicted. Traditional animosities were (and still are) often forgotten in times of crisis, and this group of ten lepers included a Samaritan in a community of outcasts that was primarily comprised of Jews. We know that Jews and Samaritans generally despised each other at that time, but such prejudices had been forgotten as the result of a fate that had put them all on the same level.
When that great leveller was removed from the ten lepers and they were cured, nine of them were in a hurry to go to a priest to get the all-clear so that they could be re-assimilated into society and no longer be outcasts (Luke 17:14), and we can be safely assume that they would no longer have wanted to associate with the Samaritan.
However, the one that I call the grateful Samaritan wanted to firstly give thanks to the one who had healed him. (Luke 17:15). It was totally unexpected for a Samaritan to give thanks to a Jewish healer, especially when his Jewish companions did not do likewise. (Luke 17:16-18). Even though he had been cured, Jewish society would still treat him as on outcast, yet he still had reason to be grateful.