As it often does, today’s reading from Saint Paul’s epistle makes the assumption that the reader is familiar with the events of the Old Testament. Abraham was the father of the entire Jewish nation—indeed, God promised that he would be the “father of many nations,” that his descendents would be numbered like the stars of heaven, or like the grains of sand along the sea shore.
“I AM, and my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.... and Abraham believed God and it was reputed to him as justice.” In another of his epistles—that to the Romans—Saint Paul emphasized this idea—Abraham had been justified through his faith, because he believed what God had revealed to him, rather than by means of anything Abraham did of his own accord to please God. Abraham had been justified through faith, and some day in the future one of Abraham’s descendents would be born—the Christ, the “anointed One,” Who would bring justification to all who believed in Him and were Baptized. Christ would be the heir, the inheritor of all that had been promised to Abraham—and like Isaac and Jacob who were the co-heirs of Abraham, we would be the co-heirs of Christ.
But, somewhere between Abraham and Christ—Paul puts it at four hundred and thirty years after Abraham—the Jewish people would escape from captivity in the land of Egypt, and would be directed to the land of Chanaan that had been promised to Abraham. Their men-children bore the mark of the covenant with Abraham, but, by and large, they lacked his faith. In fact, they often complained against God and expressed doubts about His promise, even to the point of wanting to return to slavery in Egypt. For this generation of unbelievers God felt it necessary to establish a strict code of laws for His unbelieving children to follow until He deemed it opportune to send the Christ into the world.
This Law, given to Moses on Mount Sinai, was made up of two parts. The first was an unambiguous statement of the natural moral law—God’s expectations of how He expected His people to behave toward Him and towards those around them—what we usually call the Ten Commandments. But the Law also contained a rather large amount of material that was much more disciplinary in nature. Since men had refused to believe God and to trust in His providence, He assigned them a number of ritual tasks to be completed and regulations to be followed. They were told what they could eat and what they could not; with whom to associate or not; what they could do or not do without becoming ritually “unclean,” and how such ritual impurities might be expiated. The Mosaic Law dealt with the disease of leprosy in detail—a disease perceived precisely as God’s punishment for sin, as God had punished Moses’ sister Mary in the desert for contradicting God’s revelation through Moses.
A recurring theme in Saint Paul’s writings is that the ritual prescription of the Mosaic Law—not the moral law prescriptions, of course, but the “dead works of the Law”—are no longer binding on those who believe in Jesus Christ. Today’s Gospel symbolizes the transition from the Law of Moses to Law of Faith.
Ten lepers came to Jesus. Apparently there were nine Jews and one Samaritan. We talked about the Samaritans last week; that racial group which the Jews held in contempt because they were the descendents of foreigners and appeared to be a little “different.” The lepers approached Jesus and asked for His pity on their diseased condition. Very much in accord with the Law of Moses, Jesus sent the lepers off to be examined by the priests of the Temple. They were the ones who were appointed to diagnose the disease to begin with, and who would have the final say if someone claimed to be cured of it.
Ten lepers presented themselves before Christ. Apparently all of them were healed, but only the outcaste Samaritan returned to acknowledge the source of his cure in the Christ of the Lord. Only the Samaritan was perceptive enough to recognize that divine providence was being exercised through Jesus Christ.
And what do we hear from our Lord? “Go thy way, for thy faith has saved thee.” Just as Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as justification, the Samaritan is justified by his belief in the Son of God. “Thy faith has saved thee.” All were healed, but a whole new dimension was opened to the Samaritan, for through his faith he proved himself one of those who had received “the power of becoming sons of God.”
The lesson of the Samaritan is as important for us as it was twenty centuries ago. Our religion must not be allowed to become one of following the law by rote. Certainly we must keep the Commandments; certainly we must pray and attend Mass and receive the Sacraments; certainly we must practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. But none of this should be by rote. Like Abraham and like today’s Samaritan, our religion must be based more on faith than on law; like last week’s Samaritan, our religion must be based on the love of God and the consequent love of neighbor. Faith and Love are theological virtues, rote observance is not.
So, I would ask you that, whenever you turn to pray, whenever you come to Mass, whenever you do any of the things associated with our Catholic Faith, that you spend some time in recollection that God has revealed Himself and His divine providence to us, so that by believing Him, and loving Him, and trusting in Him you may be worthy to be numbered with our Samaritan and with all who have become the adopted sons and daughters of God.
 Genesis xvii: 4; xv: 5 xxii: 17.
 Ibid., xvii: 4; xv: 6.
 Romans iv: 1-6.
 Mark xvi: 16.
 Cf. Hebrews xi: 9.
 Deuteronomy v: 1-22.
 Numbers xii: 1-15.
 Gospel: Luke xvii: 11-19.
 Leviticus xiii & xiv.
 John i.