One in TEN
I’ve spent the last couple of years traveling between Ireland and the UK, working with a Catholic Trust in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. The city has really left its mark on me. Birmingham is a truly diverse and culturally vibrant city, with a history of welcoming immigrants that dates back to the Industrial Revolution when it was a major global manufacturing hub. The diversity and vibrance has inspired inventiveness and creativity down the centuries. From Edward Elgar (composer) to Ozzy Osbourne (singer-songwriter), musicians who have called Birmingham home and whom I grew up listening to include Duran Duran, ELO, Joan Armatrading and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. In 1979, the reggae & pop group UB40 was formed in the city by children of immigrants of heritage as diverse as Irish, Jamaican and Yemeni.
UB40’s music was a soundtrack to the poverty and unemployment that was the scourge of British cities in the 1980s. One of their most powerful singles is ‘One in Ten’, released in 1981 when one in every ten adults in the UK was drawing unemployment benefit. The lyrics and haunting beat give a voice to the voiceless, and give expression to the invisible, the marginalised and the hidden poverty of the day.
I am the one in ten
A number on a list.
I am the one in ten
Even though I don’t exist.
Nobody knows me,
But I’m always there.
A statistic, a reminder
Of a world that doesn’t care.
Today’s Gospel is a story of miraculous healing that makes a powerful statement about gratitude. But as so often in the New Testament there’s a punchline, a twist. ‘The one in ten’ who returns to give thanks to Jesus is a Samaritan, a foreigner, someone who is already an outcast without status or importance. In this Gospel Jesus is teaching us about gratitude but He is also reinforcing the message that He so often uses to challenge us. Whereas we might want to turn a blind eye to the poor, keeping them on the margins and hoping they might remain invisible, in God’s eyes it is the needs of these very people – the outcast, the downtrodden, the sick and the poor – that we must prioritise.
In a later Gospel when those who are being judged for ignoring the needs of the poor ask, ‘When, Lord, did we see you hungry or thirsty, or naked or sick or in prison and not help you?’ Jesus replies ‘When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing me.”
To put it another way, Jesus says, ‘I am the One in Ten’.