by Fr. Tommy Lane
Leprosy is an infectious skin disease. For Jews in Palestine, the skin disease itself was not the worst thing. Far worse was the social isolation that the skin disease brought. The Old Testament told lepers they had to live outside the town, wear torn clothes, cover the upper lip and cry “unclean, unclean” when anyone approached (Lev 13:45-46). The disease cut lepers off from everyone close to them. It was almost as if they had died.
As Jesus entered a village ten lepers begged Jesus for help (Luke 17:11-19), “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us.” They remind us that in all of our difficulties and problems we can turn to Jesus and say, “Jesus, have pity of me.” Jesus is the One with whom we can share our deepest needs. The leper who returned to thank Jesus was a Samaritan, and the Samaritans were not on good terms with the Jews at that time. Jesus said to him, “your faith has saved you.” (Luke 17:19). Why did Jesus tell him his faith had saved him? After all, the other nine also had been cleansed of their leprosy. The other nine did not return to humbly prostrate themselves at the feet of Jesus after their healing whereas this man did. His faith brought him before Jesus and made him fall prostrate before Jesus. Salvation comes from Jesus and when we come before Jesus our faith is saving us.
The skin deformations caused by leprosy made lepers look repugnant in the eyes of some. Jesus would also have looked repugnant to some during his Passion. For that reason St. Thérèse of Lisieux referred to Jesus during his Passion as looking like a leper.
I worship Thy Divine Face. Once It shone
with the beauty and sweetness of the Divinity: now for my sake It is
become as the face of a “leper.”
(Pius X from Prayer to the Holy Face composed by St. Thérèse, page 427 of the 1912 edition of Story of a Soul published by Burns and Oats)
In Isaiah, centuries before Jesus, in a passage we regard as a prophecy of Jesus’ Passion, there is a description of how awful Jesus looked during his Passion:
so marred was his look beyond that of
and his appearance beyond that of mortals (Isa 52:14)
…One of those from whom men hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem (Isa 53:3).
Jesus, who healed the skin deformations in ten lepers, looked so badly during his Passion from bleeding and scourges and falling under the weight of the cross. Jesus who healed lepers now looked like a leper or worse than a leper. Jesus suffered all of that so that we could be healed of something much worse than a skin ailment, so that we could be healed of sin, so that we could be saved. That salvation flows to us from Jesus on the cross. The grace of all the sacraments flow to us from Jesus on the cross.
Maybe sometimes we might find it difficult to believe that God could give us the grace of Calvary, the grace of salvation, through the sacraments. We might prefer God to save us in more exalted ways. Such struggling with the humility necessary to receive God in his way was also an issue for the Syrian leper Naaman in the passage before our first reading today (2 Kings 5:14-17). When the prophet Elisha told him to immerse himself seven times in the Jordan he objected but Naaman’s servants said to him if he had been asked to do something difficult to be cured of his leprosy he would do it so why not all the more do what the prophet asked him. When he obeyed the word of the prophet he was healed.
The salvation from Jesus on the cross flows to us in humble ways that God has chosen. Jesus’ salvation touches us firstly when - like Naaman in the Jordan - we are immersed in the waters of baptism and then in each sacrament after that. Just as Naaman struggled to humbly immerse himself in the Jordan for healing, there is one sacrament now that people struggle to humbly receive for salvation, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest?” Since God uses the hands of a priest to consecrate bread and wine turning them into the Body and Blood of Jesus, why would it be any more strange for God to use the words of a priest, “I absolve you from your sins?” Jesus breathed on the apostles and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22-23) Who am I to think I know better than God. Naaman struggled to be humble enough to immerse himself in the Jordan, but was healed when he bathed in the river, and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation God gives us his forgiveness and salvation that flows to us from Jesus on the cross.
Jesus cured the ten lepers but only one of them received salvation from Jesus. The other nine did not return to humbly prostrate themselves at the feet of Jesus after their healing whereas this man did. His faith brought him before Jesus and made him fall prostrate before Jesus. Salvation comes from Jesus on the cross who looked worse than a leper and when we come before Jesus our faith is saving us. We come before Jesus in the humble ways God has chosen for us, in the water of baptism, being anointed with Holy Chrism by the bishop during Confirmation, receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in the form of bread and wine, being anointed with the Oil of the Sick by a priest and receiving God’s forgiveness through the words of priest as he says “I absolve you from your sins.” Naaman expected God would want to cure him in some magnificent way but God chooses to come to us in what is ordinary. All we need is faith, faith like the Samaritan leper to see and believe and fall prostrate at the feet of Jesus to receive his salvation.
© Fr. Tommy Lane 2016
More material for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday Year C
Related Homilies: Today’s Gospel in the context of Luke 2007
Commentary: on Samaritans excerpt Enjoying the Bible