THE GRATEFUL LEPER

28th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.
CYCLE C
9th OCTOBER 2016
LUKE 17: 11-19
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

Jesus is not afraid to venture into places where he is unwelcome – in this story; it is Samaritan territory — where there is hostility toward him, and where he would not be expected to travel being a Jew. Samaritans were accused by the Jewish people of that day of contaminating their worship. Although they had much in common with the Jews, they were despised as foreigners. Rather than worshiping in Jerusalem, the Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim.

In short, Samaritans did not like Jews, and the Jews did not like the Samaritans. Still, Jesus is unafraid to travel into places where there may be hostility, uneasiness, or darkness. Likewise, Jesus enters into our lives in places where we might be ashamed to meet him — where we might be surprised to find him; for he is unafraid to engage us wherever we are.

We should never think that Jesus will only meet us in sterile, lovely, sin-free places. Over and over Jesus enters into situations where there is sickness, death, pain, sadness, despair, and even hatred. Like the ten lepers, nine Jews and one Samaritan, who shout out to Jesus, we should also never be afraid to call out to Jesus no matter how distant we feel from him because of where we might find ourselves morally or spiritually.

The lepers had many reasons to be alienated from society; yet they have the courage to call out to Jesus for mercy. Jesus knows that the journey back into their family circle requires a declaration of cleanliness by the priest and so, without approaching or touching them, he orders the men to waste no time in beginning this process.

Although we might not suffer from a physical leprosy on the outside, we may suffer a spiritual or a sinful leprosy on the inside. Is there something in our lives that we are carrying around with us that keeps us unclean and made to feel unworthy to be full and active members of our family circle or community? Is there something so hideous to look at or touch within us that we cannot imagine letting Jesus touch it? After all, Jesus is the Messiah; our Lord and Savior. However, Jesus is also the one in this unique Gospel story who is willing to heal.

If Jesus is unafraid to touch our deepest, darkest hurts and impurities, then let us not hide them. Just as the lepers yell out to Jesus for healing; let us also call out to Jesus for our healing. Leprosy was considered a punishment by God for one’s personal or family’s sin.

Lepers were both religious and social outcasts. The visible marks of the disease were the equivalent to a sign around their neck announcing, “I am a sinner.” If a member of the community came in contact with a leper he or she too would become an outcast.

Just as the so called “sinful disease” caused a barrier between the sufferer and his family and friends, so too does sin create personal barriers and division for us, preventing us from being brothers and sister in Christ. It cuts us off from God.

Sin isolates us and can so easily make us focus on ourselves and not on the needs and the love of those around us. We may know a number of people in our lives who suffer from various mental, physical and emotional disorders. Sometimes we may feel that they are responsible for their own problems. Perhaps they suffer from an addiction or from an emotional disorder brought on by a series of bad choices they made. Our job is not to judge, but to love.

Our job is not to condemn, but to bring hope and healing. Our job is to bring them back into the love of their families: biological, the parish family, the neighborhood family. Whilst walking to the temple as instructed to do by Jesus, all the lepers were cured; but only one, the Samaritan, was healed. Oftentimes curing is equated to biomedical betterment and healing is equated to restoring meaning, hope, and wholesomeness.

Nine of the lepers weren’t able to express gratitude, which seems to suggest that their cure was only skin deep. Their leprosy was gone, but they missed out on receiving something far greater than any physical healing. The Samaritan leper who returns to thank Jesus is both cured and healed. He exhibits both a physical cure and a deeper spiritual, emotional healing that prompts him to express gratitude. Jesus says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” He is already cured, but here Jesus refers to him now as saved.

This is what we long for — both curing and healing. In good times we sometimes forget God, even though we continue to pay lip service to him; but then an illness brings us to our knees and suddenly we are faced with our own poverty, weakness and mortality.

However if this brings us closer to God and makes us more spiritual, it will prove to be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes in life we see loved ones experience sickness or disability and although we pray for a physical cure, the mystery of suffering dumbfounds us when they do not get better. Yet, I am sure many of us have known folk who were never physically cured, but they were certainly healed before they went home to God.

There is a certain peace and hope that can be untouched by physical sickness. We pray for this kind of healing always. The Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus shows us the way to this healing. At mass today, let us be sure to return to Jesus to thank him for what he has done for us and ask for help to overcome our barriers.

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