13 October 2019
2 Kings 5.14-17
2 Timothy 2.8-13
Luke 17: 11-19
A certain man saw a poor beggar at the side of the road and gave him some coins. He had walked away about 200 metres when he suddenly realized that the beggar had not thanked him and he became quite angry. He spoke to his Rabbi about it who asked him, ‘Did you give him the money only to be thanked? And, by the way, did you thank Yahweh for inspiring you to be kind to the beggar?’
One message of today’s readings is gratitude, especially to God. Are we grateful people? The central worship we make is the Eucharist, a Greek word meaning thanksgiving because in it we offer Jesus to the Father in gratitude for the gifts he lavishes on us daily. Healing is another aspect of today’s gospel.
The gospel today highlights the fact that it is a foreigner who shows gratitude to God, not the other nine. At the time of Jesus leprosy would have been thought of as AIDS is by many today. Lepers had to keep their distance from people and villages. They usually had a bell which they rang warning others of their presence. Even though the disease of leprosy was terrible, eating away into the flesh until eventually killing the leper there were other perhaps worse aspects associated with being a leper. They were cut off socially from their families, their village, from attending synagogue worship. Simply they were regarded as outcasts, outsiders. One could imagine that they would have had little self-esteem.
At one stage in Nigeria outside the church where I celebrated Mass on a Sunday there was a leper who had only two stumps of hands – no palms, no fingers etc. I often thought: How did he dress himself? He obviously couldn’t write, tie his sandals or thread a needle. I couldn’t but thank God for my hands and fingers each time I saw him. Should it not be the same when we see blind or similar people?
So on his way to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die Jesus entered a village and 10 lepers came to meet him. As the custom demanded they stood some way off and begged him to help them. Here Jesus simply tells the 10 lepers to go and show themselves to the priests. This was in keeping with the laws of the time so that they could be certified as being free from leprosy. It is interesting that he didn’t cure them on the spot but asked them to do something by going to the priests and trusting him.
The change effected by Jesus was far greater than merely a physical one. They were healed of being social outcasts. They could now go back to their families, their friends, and their synagogues. But for the Samaritan who was cured it was even deeper as it now meant a new relationship with Jesus, with God. In turning back to Jesus he praises God and Jesus says ‘your faith has saved you’.
Interestingly, at first the 10 lepers stood at a distance from Jesus. The Samaritan in turning back to give thanks fell at the feet of Jesus. This shows us that he is now much closer to Jesus than before the healing. But the others go farther away. Isn’t it true for any of us that our blessings, our gifts from God can either bring us nearer to Him or keep us away if we forget the Source, the Giver?
Luke wants to emphasise something that may be overlooked. It happens that one of the lepers is a Samaritan, a foreigner and therefore someone who would have been looked down on by the Jewish people. However, Jesus shows no partiality. On the contrary he seems to prefer marginalised and insignificant people. Luke, who in his gospel shows such sensitivity for the poor, does the same with the Samaritan. These other lepers, most likely Jews, accept a Samaritan among them. Their common pain and tragedy brought them together just like these days the evil terrorist attacks bring people of all creeds, nationalities, and languages together in great displays of solidarity.
The listeners would not have been delighted to hear Jesus describing this Samaritan as the hero of the story. And by implication Jesus expresses his disappointment that the others did not show their gratitude. Obviously God appreciates being thanked and haven’t we all so much to thank God for?
Leprosy now as in the time of Jesus always makes outcasts of people. It has a thousand names and a thousand faces: illness, old age, poverty, AIDS, unemployment, drugs, but also abuse, violence, desertion, giving up, loneliness. In reading the story of the 10 lepers I am aware that I am a leper too because of my sins. We can cut ourselves off from God, from others and even ourselves if we distance ourselves from God and the others who may want to help us find a meaning, peace and joy in life.
Finally, the Greek word for healing is the same for saving or making whole. So in healing the leper and the sins of each of us Jesus wants to make us whole. He wants to save us from all that could harm us or cause division. All the lepers knew how desperately they needed the healing touch of Jesus? Do we? Let us go to him and ask him to reveal to us where we most need healing and ask him to heal us.
“Lord Jesus, help me to be aware of my need for healing and especially to be ever grateful to you for all your gifts, healing included. May you use us to be healers for those we meet who feel cut off from what is life-giving. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA