Your faith has saved you. (Luke 17:19)
On the face of it, this story seems to have a very clear message, one perhaps as applicable to children as to adults - “Remember to say thank you!”
But when we dig a bit deeper, it might seem more complicated.
In addition to this obvious message, we might be struck also by a second point - the example of the faith and gratitude of the one who is an outsider, the Samaritan, and the corresponding lack of faith and gratitude of those who should have known better. Here is another possible message.
Or thirdly, at the end of the story, we might find another point, when we hear these words: "Your faith has saved you". So, perhaps the story is told to us to impress upon us the importance of faith in the miracles of Jesus?
And fourthly, given that we have a contrast here between the Jews and Samaritans, as in so many other places, perhaps we being led to reflect upon unity and equality of different races, creeds and ethnic groups?
But there’s a problem with all four of these ideas and interpretations. Though Jesus told the faithful, grateful Samaritan, “your faith has saved you”, the other 9, were healed too. They showed little gratitude (the first point), and seem have less faith than the foreigner (second and third points), and appear to turn their backs on the Samaritan (fourth point). Yet these nine are healed too. Any point we might want to draw from the story seems to be contradicted, overruled by this fact.
Yet Perhaps there is another point which is being made, or which we can draw. Let me illustrate this with a little story from history.
In the 4th Century there was an emperor called Julian. He was a fascinating figure. He was born into the imperial family and brought up a Christian (this was long after Roman persecution if Christians had ended). As an adult He left the Church, and returned again to the old Roman religion. When he became Emperor, made it his purpose to revitalise and restore the worship of the Roman gods. He saw how successful The Church was, and tried to reform paganism in its image. He did not ban Christianity, or persecute Christians, - on the contrary, he declared that there should be freedom of religion - but he tried to make paganism as attractive as the Church itself.
He set up an organisation and structure rather like parishes and Diocese, Bishops and Archbishops.
And more than anything else he set up a social welfare system, to help those in need - because he believed that the success of the Church over the old religion, of Christianity over Paganism, was precisely because the Church didn't just help its own people but came to the assistance of anyone in need.
“These impious Galileans,” he said, “not only feed their own poor, but ours also; … they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.”
It was a fascinating venture. It was the first attempt probably to set up a state run welfare system, though ultimately it failed.
He'd missed the point of course, Christians don't help others, even non Christians, because that is the way to get converts, like children are attracted with cakes, but because this is the way in which they follow Christ, who gave himself for all.
Charity is not a tool for conversion - that would be cynical, and as Julian found, bound to fail - but our Charity succeeds because it is our freely given response to the love of God.
So the message we can draw from today's Gospel actually is this: God gives to good and bad, rich and poor, Jew and Samaritan alike. He deserves our gratitude, but gives whether he receives it or not. And so should we. This is the fundamental principle of Christian charity. It is the principle that drives Cafod, which inspires the Food Bank. As Christians we do not care for others because they are good, or faithful. We do not care for other people because they too are Christians. We care because Christ cares, and our charity is for Christian and atheist, Muslim and Hindu, European and Asian, Grateful and Ungrateful, Saint and Sinner, Good and Bad alike.
We do not seek faith or conversion in response to our charity - because our charity is already the response to God’s infinite love.
The image is of a statue of the Emperor Julian (Julian the Apostate) which is in the Louvre in France. bit.ly/2dzno5R