Saint Ignatius High School

Their Cry was for Pity

“Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!” That's the cry of the ten lepers this weekend. Mr. Healey unpacks their plea, particularly the third exclamation, an ardent ask for pity. When they were searching for a cure, what do the words in their request really mean?

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: 2nd Book of Kings 5:14-17

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98:1-4

Second Reading: St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy 2:8-13

Gospel: According to St. Luke 17:11-19

“Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!”  It is not the words, but the punctuation that should raise our eyebrows.  To call the name of Jesus and to hail Him as one’s master deserve exclamation points.  Yet it is that third exclamation point, easily ignored, that seems out of place, even blasphemous.

“(Will you please) have pity on us?” is normal as a plea of help in a desperate situation.  To ask for help is what we do when we see someone whom we think can be of assistance.  Jesus is their Master and if anyone can help, then He can.  The only problem is that the lepers don’t ask for help – they demand it.

St. Luke places an exclamation point where a question mark would have conveyed the anguish of people who finally see a possible light at the end of the tunnel.  Jesus responds to their demand by sending them away: “Go show yourselves to the priests.”  Without a word they turn and walk away, possibly talking amongst themselves about this seemingly fitting rebuke for their impudence in the face of the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Yet, while on their way to see the priests they were healed and one of them, a Samaritan, went back to Jesus and fell at His feet to glorify Him.  Jesus notes that the only one to return was the foreigner and then tells the man, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

We could infer that only the faith of the Samaritan was on display and we could use the response of Jesus as evidence.  But maybe that inference might not match with what Jesus was implying.  Is it possible that when Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you” He was not excluding the possibility that the other nine were also saved by their faith?

All ten demanded that Jesus have pity on them.  All ten were sent away.  All 10 were healed, and returning to Jesus was not a condition of the healing.  If the faith of the Samaritan has saved him, then would it not be correct to infer that all were saved by their faith?  Maybe Jesus didn’t take their demand to have pity on them in a way that crossed the line, but in a way that recognized their total and complete faith in Him.

Since Jesus saw into their hearts and still healed all 10 of them He must have known that they had such faith in Him that they knew they would be healed.  Luke makes sure we understand this by using that third exclamation point.  Their demand is not one that blasphemes – it is one that recognizes the unbounded power of their Lord.

And maybe the key is not in the imperative nature of their statement, but in the wording.  They do not call out to Jesus that He should cure them of their leprosy – their call is to be given His pity.  These men could have looked at Jesus as a representative of the injustice that God forced upon them, and their call could have been for Him to make things right.  We don’t know what would have happened if they had demanded God’s justice, but we do know what happened when their cry was for pity.

To be face-to-face with the living God and to seek justice is a dangerous gambit; we do not know the mind of such a Judge.  Things might have gone well for the Samaritan, but what about the other nine?  Fortunately for them they sought God’s pity, which is another story, and one that always has a happy ending.