Today’s readings speak about the healing of lepers. Healing is God’s response of compassion to those who suffer. In our own fragility we need to obey the word of God that guides us on the path of wholeness. We could pray that we may be receptive to the word of God.
You are not too poor for a little gesture of gratitude
- First Reading 2 Kings 5:14–17
- Second Reading 2 Timothy 2:8-13
- Gospel Luke 17: 11–19
Across borders to lepers
Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. In a border village between Galilee and Samaria ten lepers cry to him: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They need help of some kind. Who are lepers?
Lepers suffered not only in their body but also a social and religious discrimination. By their sickness lepers were considered impure and they were excluded from any social contact, even of their family. If a leper passed where there was a possibility of meeting other people, he had to shout: “Unclean, unclean, unclean” to warn people so as to avoid crossing paths with him. We would say, a leper was socially dead and to be healed was somehow like coming back from the dead. This is the kind of people who cried to Jesus for help.
A journey that ends in healing
Jesus responds: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” This is because it’s the priest who certified if one had a disease and he certified also when one got healed. Isn’t it strange that Jesus sends the lepers to the priest? They still have the disease. Here we cannot ignore the confidence that these lepers have in Jesus. They cry to him for help and they also obey what he tells them to do. Going to see the priest wasn’t like going to see a priest or pastor in few minutes time. Here we are talking of a journey of one or two days on foot. In obedience, the lepers put themselves on the road.
Isn’t our life a journey of faith? Each person, with his leprosy, advances confident that the road that God leads him on the path of wholeness. We keep moving even when things may not seem promising. Yet, positive surprises do not lack. We recover our health and our dignity. We are healed. What do we do then?
U-turn or just continue?
On the way all ten lepers find themselves healed but the reaction is different. The nine continue their way to show themselves to a priest –they hurry to fulfil what the law prescribes. That seems sufficient for these law-abiding Jews. The foreigner acts differently.
He is a Samaritan, belonging to a people despised as not being genuine Jews. They are damned heretics who worship in mountains instead of the Temple. He returns, not only for simple politeness. He prostrates himself at the feet of Jesus; a sign of submission. Doesn’t this heretic recognise in Jesus the Temple and the Priest? And Jesus can’t hold himself from asking: “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 says to the Samaritan, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Indeed, it’s only the Samaritan who recovers completely. The other nine are certainly purified but only bodily; deep down them still dwells an internal leprosy of ingratitude and pride.
I may be a Christian good at observing rituals yet there are perhaps certain elementary things, of common sense, that I overlook. The Samaritan heretic calls me to evaluate myself.
Am I not a leper seeking healing?
Today’s word isn’t just a biblical story of the past. It’s equally an experience of our life today. Looking into my life I find myself weakened by different forms leprosy; the leprosy that eats away my joy, my marriage, my relationships with people, my job –it eats my life away. I too am crying for mercy; but with what kind of attitude? Am I different from Naaman?
We know his story. Naaman wants to be healed all right yet pride inhabits him. He doubts, he is sceptic, he despises what is proposed to him. He is angry. But God is acting through ways as banal as mud-coloured water of the Jordan in which Naaman is asked to immerse himself. Admittedly, banality may be quite annoying especially to persons with a complex of grandeur.
Yet banality is everywhere
How can Jesus be present in wafers and wine? Drops of water on the head that manage only to undo my hair make-up, you say it’s a way of becoming a child of God? How do I kneel before a person, sinner like me, and you tell me it’s God forgiving me? Banality, banality, everywhere banality!
That’s why it will not be helpful to reduce this Sunday’s readings as talking simply about healing and the need to say thank you. Important also is the call to faith. We are called to obey the word of God that sends us on the road, even when we know not how the walk will end. However, it’s by obeying that we find healing. It’s not the simple bathing in the Jordan that heals Naaman, but rather the word of the prophet that sends him and Naaman’s obedience to what he’s told. It’s the same for ten lepers. Therefore, the faith that heals calls us to take a road with trust in God. However, don’t forget one thing.
Acknowledge the marvels of the road
For the marvels you see on your journey, no matter how small, remember to say thank you. Learn to take your hat off in gratitude. Retrace your footsteps and thank all to whom you owe gratitude. You are where you we are today thanks to many people. How grateful are you to them? Unfortunately, some of us we still struggle with our internal leprosy –forgetfulness and ingratitude.
Indeed, healing is accomplished only when accompanied by inner conversion. Naaman was truly healed for he arrived in Israel not only as leper but also a pagan. He returned to Syria not only purified of his leprosy but also of his idols -he went back a believer of the God of Israel: “Your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.”
May the word of God bring about in me an inner healing that makes me exult like David: Praise the Lord, my soul, never forget his kindness; he forgives your sins and heals your wounds (cf. Ps 103:2-3).