questions i am asking about luke's story of the lepers - part one

In a section from the Iona Community's New Wee Worship Book, one of their worship experiments includes asking this question after a Bible story: “If you had been present, and could ask a question to anyone in this story, who would you want to speak with and what would you ask?”  It is a great question and I've been pondering it almost non-stop for most of yesterday and today in relation to Sunday's reading from St. Luke's gospel.  The appointed text is as follows:
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

My first question would be to the gospel's author - not Jesus or the lepers - but to the one we know as St. Luke:  "Why did you retell this story of the Lord's healing of a leper in such a way as to denigrate Jews?"  As best I can tell, there are two previous healing stories in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus heals one leper:

+ The earliest text, Mark 1:40-45, finds Jesus coming down from a time of quiet prayer in the mountains when a leper recognizes him as a holy man of healing.  The unclean one is healed and urged to go to the priest, present himself according to Torah (Leviticus 13-14) and rejoin community life after the necessary probationary waiting (8 days.)  Jesus urges the one who has experienced healing to keep silence - the Messianic secret of Mark - but the man does not practise discretion. Consequently, the text tells us Jesus had to remain in the border areas of Galilee because the crowds grew too large whenever he entered a town. Most scholars agree that Mark's gospel was written for Gentile Christians fleeing the violence in Galilee during the time of Rome's destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 65-70 CE.

+ The next chronological story, Matthew 8: 1-4,  also has Jesus coming from a time of solitude in prayer in the mountains.  Once again the action involves a cry for healing, the response of Jesus - who chooses to touch the unclean man and heal the man's diseased, unclean skin - and admonitions to remain silent but present himself to a priest.  Matthew's text goes on to note that radical trust is essential for disciples for they, like Jesus, will be able to bring healing to even those afflicted by demons. It is likely this text comes from the Jewish Christian community living in exile in Syria sometime after after Rome waged war against Jewish zealots and  decimated Jerusalem.. A date of 70-80 CE is common.

+ The third story, Sunday's lesson from Luke, adds embellishments that point towards the growing conflict between Jews, Jewish Christians and Gentile believers in the way of Jesus and emphasize Luke's universalist concerns. Jesus in this telling is on the road to Jerusalem when 10 lepers cry out for assistance. They all recognize him as "Master" and plead for his healing. Jesus assures them it will become theirs and sends them off to their priest for examination and the cleansing rituals of Leviticus 14 that will restore them to community.  As Jesus prepares to resume his trek into Jerusalem one of the healed lepers returns and thanks Jesus - falling at the Lord's feet in gratitude - and claiming to have encountered the "glory of the Lord" (a sense of God's presence." This prompts Jesus to wonder aloud why only one of the healed lepers responds with gratitude - and how odd that it should be a foreign Samaritan! Luke's audience in 80-90 CE was a well-educated, Greek speaking house church in Rome who were more interested in a universalist religion than one beholden to a specifically Jewish Messiah. 
Many scholars believe that one reason why Luke-Acts carefully distinguishes Christians from Jews is to win favor with the Roman Empire. After the desecrating sacrilege of slaughter, rape and the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, this was no small concern. As James Carroll puts it in his harrowing history, Constantine's Sword and  Christ Actually, ."since the Gospels were all written during the catastrophic years in which Jews were traumatized by the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem:"

it would be odd if that crisis were not reflected in how the story of Jesus was told, since the entire point of composition just then was to put Jesus forward as the solution to the problem of the destroyed Temple. The Jewish experience during the savage violence of what I presume to call the first Holocaust, in other words, could be expected, in the scales of narrative composition, to weigh as much as, if not more thank the remembered actualities of Jesus' life four decades earlier. The crisis of Temple destruction in 70 was enough for the Jesus people to put the Temple at the center of their explanation of his meaning - and they did.  (Christ Actually, p. 68)

Carroll makes a strong case that the war against Jews and the destruction of the Temple in 70 colors each of the Gospels. Regarding Mark - especially the apocalypse of Mark 13 - Carroll continues:

If we keep our focus on the Roam War as the defining key to (the interpretation) of Jesus actually, there is a simple explanation for the frankly shocking portrait of Peter as a cowardly unreliable man. If the Gospel of Mark was addressed to a frightened, demoralized collective of Jesus people holed up in Galilee, to people threatened on all sides by marauding Romans, revenge-seeking Jewish Zealots, or Jews associated with rabbis who insisted that acceptance of the false Messiah Jesus threatened the survival of what remained of Judaism; and if those Jesus people, additionally, bore the burden of guilt at their failure to join in the anti-Roman resistance, or were tempted to believe the accusations of cowardice hurled at them by their fellow Jews; and if they had even lost faith in their Lord, whose rescuing return had yet to come about -- well, what in the world would good news look like to such people? In contrast, the message of Mark was straightforward:  do not feel guilty because you have faltered in the faith; do not feel disqualified because you have lost h ope; do not count yourselves lost - because look! The most intimate friends of Jesus behaved in exactly the same way, including, especially, the exalted Peter, whose name everyone reveres. What you need to hear in this time of grotesque tribulation is that Jesus extends his call not to heroes, but to cowards, who fail him. An honest reckoning with such failures is the starting point of discipleship. (ibid, pp 76-77)

If Mark's account of Jesus was shaped by the Roman War - and it was - so, too was Luke's - with an important distinction:  his community lived at the heart of the Empire. Small wonder that throughout Luke the antagonism Jesus faces in opposition to his ministry is not with Rome, but rather among the leaders of the synagogue in Nazareth and later with his kin in the Temple and schools of Jewish Jerusalem.  Wrestling with this reality helps explain the evolution of how a secret healing of one leper eventually became a public scolding of ungrateful Jews in another. In part two of my review and questions for Luke 17, I want to spend time coming to terms with the shamanistic roots that shape the cleansing ritual for leprosy in Leviticus 14.  This wildly earthy ceremony has long been forgotten in contemporary Christianity and I want to make sense of it for my faith as well as within Jewish spirituality.



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