Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 19, 2010

Luke 17: The thankful leper

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 19, 2010

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Again the significance of the other is highlighted, not obscured. The Greek translated as foreigner is allogenes literally other sort, other nature or other tribe.

The Jewish audience of Jesus generally despised Samaritans. Jesus applies that sense of otherness to encourage his listeners to self-criticism and self-awareness.

The key issue here is not the religious identity of the leper, but his faith and his thankfulness. All ten had sufficient faith. Only one had the humility and care to return, praise God, and give thanks… and he was a Samaritan.  The Samaritan identity — heretical, unclean, and potentially dangerous — serves to underline the essential role of thankfulness.

In the Samaritan stories Jesus tells us that whatever other we encounter we are to look beyond our prejudices to the faith of the other, the behavior of the other, and especially how the other is in relationship with God and neighbor. Jesus tells us to recognize the other as neighbor and as an expression of God.

We also see in the Samaritan stories how our encounter with the other can help us see ourselves more clearly and experience our relationship with God more fully.

Next Friday, Christmas Eve, some thoughts on the potential relevance to homeland security of the six texts we have examined.


This is the seventh post in a weekend series that will conclude on December 24.  The purpose is to examine possible principles for inter-religious relations emerging from six scriptural texts.

The first post on December 3 was Tis the season… to deal directly with religious difference.

The second post on December 4 was Avoid Samaritan Towns.

The third post on December 5 was The Woman at Jacob’s Well.

The fourth post on December 11 was Jesus accused of being a Samaritan.

The fifth post on December 12 was A Samaritan town rejects Jesus  (including several reader comments).

The sixth post on December 18 was The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

December 19, 2010 @ 7:48 am

It would be difficult for any modern person to fully understand the beginning of the Christian Era. I am not an Anthropologist or at all a student of the living conditions at that time. But from reading it is obvious that any event or trip beyond 20 miles from a persons place of birth unless a sailor was quite unusual. Even in Arlington VA where I spent most of my life-over 55 years– I once knew or met people who rarely had been out of the county. Then ususally to downtown Washington, D.C. They say travel is broadening and surely few traveled much beyond their home village except under unusual circumstances. Now the world is available through the mechanism of TV and Radio and the INTERNET. Some argue that about 150 or even less is the group that dominates each persons life although the numbers may vary over time. So even today differences, appearances, culture, language, etc.,etc., can create distinctions. Many are taught that these “others” are somehow inferior or less deserving of success than the primary group. Why? As humans the Sociologists, Pscycologists, Anthropologists and other relevant disciplines will have to determine both the real differences and those that are not. The medical profession of course long ago learned that the human body was a single platform in its design. Perhaps that has imbedded a knowledge and mindset that makes that profession to some degree universally respected and welcomed almost anywhere. Great social upheavals, and even disasters can bring people face to face with a larger group. Professor Denis Militi, PhD, a respected sociologist credited with the notion of the “therapuetic community” created post-natural disaster has demonstrated that the interaction of the smaller groups is usally beneficial to the larger group. Vaccines by the way are designed to protect the “herd” not the individual which many do not understand.
So the more open a society is to examination of the core of humanity and study and learning about humanity generally including the all important demographic issues which may control the ultimate human destiney unless interrupted by an asteroid or other catastrophe seems to be helpful in promoting understanding.

Some of course commute to work over 100 miles but that is an odd form of leaving their village.

The US has chosen to intervene in world’s where the 20 mile rule may still be applicable and we keep trying to make that world understand one that exists but also is as remote to some as the next village 20 miles away. Yet our obliviousness to the disparity continues.

I downstreamed the newly available Sebastian Junger documentary “RESTREPRO” which follows a small unit of US ARMY personnel in Afghanistan in 2007. A cow is killed by the soldiers that accidentally got caught in the concertina wire. The Americans don’t understand that in that world the cow is a capital asset producing throughout its life and the Americans offer one time rice and beans to replace it. We are definitely the “other” in the filmed location.

So my bottom line is this: How many times have you traveled outside your “village” recently and for what purposes? How many of the US soldiers we send into foreign lands speak the language, understand the culture, and of course how many spent time traveling outside their “village” before entering onto active service?

It seems to me Jesus was saying “Look in the mirror” when you want to see what the “other” looks like to those from a distant “village”!

But as always could be wrong.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 19, 2010 @ 9:01 am


I like where you end up, especially in regard to what we are to see in the mirror. That is clearly a key message emerging from the texts.

Without preempting my Christmas Eve conclusions, I will note that the biggest shift in my own thinking from studying the six Samaritan sayings is a greater readiness to acknowledge difference and to engage “otherness” more directly.

In the small Illinois town in which I was raised we learned to treat difference mostly as eccentricity, and to give much more emphasis to what all of us shared. There is much to commend in this ethic.

But the six sayings suggest that when differences are more complex, this superficial tolerance is as dismissive — and potentially destructive — as the most bigoted disdain.

Jesus urges us to deal with the full reality of our particular time, place, and circumstance. Bilal Ali Muhammad demonstrated this kind of profound realism.

Mr. Muhammad recognized a destructive, evil otherness in the suicide bomber. The bomber killed himself to fulfill a perversely abstract hatred of others. Mr. Muhammad embraced that other in a self-sacrificing love of particular others. Distinguishing love from hate is crucial. The distinction between Sunni and Shia was irrelevant.

Being able to recognize and deal courageously with such difference is an essential task for our times… especially in homeland security.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 19, 2010 @ 10:08 am

Does Islam recognize “evil”? Don’t know just asking!

Superficial tolerance can be dismissive and even destructive as you point out. Yet it might well be regarded as a beginning.

One of problems I see facing US and world is that technology seems more fragmenting than uniting.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 19, 2010 @ 10:10 am

Of course I blame the Physicist for destruction of the NEWTONIAN point of view. Is it “Deus vice Machina”?

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 19, 2010 @ 11:52 am

“DEUS EX MACHINA” to the 17th Century!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 19, 2010 @ 1:33 pm


The notion of evil does exist in Islam. To the extent it is similar to — or different than — the concept in Judaism or Christianity is beyond my expertise. But here’s a contribution, while hoping others may point both of us in a more helpful direction.

The following is an abstract of a piece written a few years ago, entitled, The Problem of Evil in Islam and Christianity.

The solutions provided to the question of why there is evil range from a denial of absolute evil to a denial of God. The problem of evil weighs heavy on the Abrahamic faiths due to the need to reconcile God’s mercy and power with the existence of evil. Although both Christian and Islamic traditions begin their explanation of evil from the Fall of Adam, their interpretation of the repercussions of this event differs. For Christians, Adam was cast out to earth as a punishment for his sin. For the Muslims, on the other hand, Adam had asked God for forgiveness for this transgression and his repentance was accepted and thus, he was forgiven. However, he was still sent down to earth, not as a punishment but in order to develop his full potential. The Christian response to the problem of evil is dominated on one hand by Augustine’s free will argument and its solution God’s grace. Irenaeus on the other hand, argues that man is an immature creation that requires earthly experience in order to develop his potential. Combining both Augustine and Irenaeus positions may actually provide a more complete answer and is certainly not contradictory. Muslim philosophers integrated both approaches to get the best of both worlds. They utilized Augustine free will and incorporated Ireneaus’ fulfillment of man’s potential to argue that life on earth though hard is actually good. These differing understandings of the concept of genesis and the evolution of evil have practical implications on the concept of mans responsibility and human action although it is not obvious in everyday life.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 19, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

Thanks and quite helpful!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 20, 2010 @ 9:24 am

The Monday, December 20, Washington Post includes a front page story relevant to this series:

Enrollment of Muslim Students is Growing at US Catholic Colleges

An excerpt from the story:

Muslim students say they enroll at Catholic schools for many of the same reasons as their classmates: attractive campuses, appealing professors and academic programs that fit their interests. But there is also a spiritual attraction to the values that overlap the two faiths.

“Because it is an overtly religious place, it’s not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority,” said Shabnan, a political science major who often covers her head with a pale beige scarf. “They have the same values we do.”

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