February 23, 2009
A serious question for my Christian readers: can you tell me if this little vignette is a parody or not? I certainly read it that way, until I dug into the parent directory, which appears to be an in-all-seriousness online manual for youth ministry.
Jesus: Wait a minute, didn’t I heal ten lepers? Why didn’t the other nine come back to thank me? The only one who came back to give praise to God was the Samaritan.
Disciple 1: Hum, maybe we were wrong about Samaritans.
Now I know how I read Luke 17:11-19, which is the passage of Scripture on which this little vignette is based. I think about those other nine lepers for a moment — but only a moment, because they’re not real. We know that even the worst ingrates are incapable of behaving like this; if you get magically cured of one of the worst diseases known to man, you’re going to at least stick around and figure out what just happened, right?
And that’s why it only takes a moment. As the reader, you can instantly recognize this passage as a badly-written bit of fiction. (That’s not to indict the whole Bible; there’s a lot of well-written fiction in there, too.) The nine ingrate lepers aren’t real people; they’re cartoon extras who exist for the sole purpose of providing the Samaritan leper some sharp relief. He gets to behave sensibly, and then Jesus can make his point. It’s a morality play, not a work of history. And the more you read the Bible, more and more of it reads the same way.
That’s why on first reading, I thought “Ten Lepers” had to be a clever parody. But now I’m not so sure, and that’s Poe’s Law in a nutshell.