Readings: Second Book of Kings 5:14-17; Second Letter of Paul to Timothy 2:8:13; Gospel According to Saint Luke 17:11-19
Throughout the Gospels we see clearly that our Lord has the power of healing people. Sometimes the faith of the one or more persons who want to be cured moves Jesus to act. Sometimes it is someone else, pleading on behalf of a friend, acquaintance, slave or relative that moves Jesus to bring about healings.
Jesus regularly performed physical healings, but the message of the Gospel is clearly that the Lord truly came to bring a deeper and more lasting cure, that is, healing from sin and death and restoration to new and everlasting life, the gift of salvation and participation in God’s Kingdom forever.
The physical cures Jesus worked during his public ministry are profound reminders of the deeper and lasting healing Christ has come to bestow by rising from the dead and opening the gates of Paradise. There could be no better form of healing than this.
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage we are told of ten lepers. The familiar episode is as much about the healing power of God as it is about gratitude, or lack of it, that humans express. In both the first reading and the Gospel this Sunday we are presented with outsiders, a Syrian in the first reading and a Samaritan in the Gospel, who are healed and readily show their gratitude.
Looking at the Scripture lessons, we can ask: isn’t it often the outsider, the marginal, the Syrian or Samaritan leper, who knows his or her need of God and is not afraid to ask for help? These are ones whom Jesus calls “the poor in spirit,” who know their limits and are willing to call upon a power higher than themselves, rather than put their trust is what cannot really heal them.
The Orthodox theologian Elizabeth Behr-Sigel once wrote, “God can only fill those hearts that recognize that they are empty.” This is the heart of the message.
In the Gospel passage today the lepers shout to Jesus “from afar,” on account of their uncleanness. Nonetheless they are unafraid to call on the Lord. They are poor and needy, but still bold enough to ask for help from where they are confident it will come.
In what might be an otherwise obscure point in the first reading today, we should take note of the touching action of Naaman the Syrian, cured of his leprosy. So grateful is Naaman for a cure that he requests permission to take some earth from the Holy Land, Israel, back to his own homeland, so that he might properly worship the God of Israel, based on the notion at that time that no god can be honored outside that god’s own land.
If that is so, Naaman concludes, he will bring the land of Israel’s God back to Syria! Today we recognize that the One true God can be worshiped anywhere, but Naaman’s innocent or pristine faith went to an extreme that we see as unnecessary, but admirable in its intention.
The beautiful passage from Paul’s second letter to Timothy this Sunday deserves a homily in itself, for its depth and richness, but suffice it to say that the message is most welcome: dying in Christ means living eternally with him. The reference to dying is to remind us of baptism, when we died to sin in Christ and welcomed into God’s family for eternity.
Persevering in the desire for daily avoidance of sin, and coupled with that, never wishing to be separated from God, will assist in the realization of the desired result, which is “life on high with Christ.” God is Love without limits, and eager to save anyone who can be saved, that is, all people.
What is being asked of us as we reflect on Scripture today is an openness and movement toward God, a stretching out of our hands, even from a distance, to God’s saving power. This power from God is present in word and actions, in the Church and her Sacraments, offered to all as a free gift and sustenance for the journey of life made in faith day by day.
We should always be filled with gratitude for God’s deeds of salvation in Jesus Christ, symbolically shown in the Gospel in healing from a disease that cut people off from the community. In like manner, God frees us from the death of sin, restores us to life, and draws all men and women to eternal life.
May we willingly show the gratitude of the Syrian and Samaritan lepers of the Scripture lessons for this Sunday. These people sought out the God who could and did cure them. They desired to be with the Lord at all times and God made that possible and still does so.
Since God remains faithful to the promises made long ago of salvation in Jesus Christ, that is, true healing and life immortal, we should be greatly comforted.
Prior Christian Leisy, OSB
Monastery of Christ in the Desert
Abiquiu, New Mexico