| 2 Kings 5: 14-17 | 2 Timothy 2: 8-13 | Luke 17: 11-19 | 28 Ordinary C’13 |
Scripture Readings: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Print PDF: Weekly Homily 10.13.2013
Leprosy has been known as Hansen’s disease since a cure was discovered in mid-20th Century. Prior to that, contracting leprosy was tantamount to receiving a death sentence. In biblical times those infected with it were cast-out, exiled and isolated from all social interaction to prevent the spread of the disease. On my sabbatical in 1983 I visited a hospital in Northern Thailand. The patients had Hansen’s disease and I was extremely uncomfortable as I walked among them!
The incident in this text is well known. “As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem . . . ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance and called out, ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us’.”
He sent them to the priests. “As they were going they were cleansed.” Once cleansed, they vanish from the scene, except one – the Samaritan. He chose not to obey Jesus and did not go show himself to the priests as the nine Jews apparently did. He “returned to give thanks.” What do you think is going on here? What is Luke trying to tell us?
This brief narrative is complex. In addition to gratitude the narrative is about inclusion — Jesus ignored the cultural and ritual barriers that separated Jews and Samaritans. In addition to inclusion the narrative is about “faith” — “stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
I think we will connect this text with our own lives if we consider the situation of the ten lepers before “they were cleansed.” The condition and situation of the ten was less then fully human. They are less than fully alive. We see in them that human life and relationships are fragile.
We all have the tendency or at least the possibility of being like those lepers in biblical times. We have the tendency over many years to end up being bound, restricted, inhibited or de-energized in various ways. The result is to become less than fully human and less than fully alive.
It is easy to make a limited list of examples. Co-dependent relationships. Addictions. Guilt. Resentment. These bind, restrict, inhibit or de-energize us. You can add your own examples.
Once cleansed, the nine Jewish lepers vanish and we do not hear any more of them. It seems reasonable to assume they were welcomed back into family and among friends and peers. The fears, emptiness and wounds that bound them were healed and they were again free to love; at least the sort of love we label, “Eros” – based on physical attraction; and probably the sort of love we label, “Filia” – based on mutual friendship.
Consider the Samaritan who returned. He followed his heart rather than the order to “go show yourself to the priests.” There is intensity in his response. He is so driven by the experience of being made whole and free and newly alive that he could not help himself. “He praised God in a loud voice, and threw himself at the feet of Jesus.” Perhaps Luke is telling us the Samaritan leper was again free to love at the deepest and most fully human level. That is the sort of love we label, “Agape” – unconditional love.
We all are loved by that Gracious Mystery we name God. God’s love for each and every person, in every circumstance and in every experience, is “agape” – unconditional! Jesus of Nazareth is both model and mentor of “agape” — what it means to love without condition or limitation. His life and teaching call us, as he called the ten lepers, to be unfettered and unbound, to be free to love.
If you are inclined to imitate the nine Jewish lepers rather than the Samaritan, then surely this text is speaking directly to your heart. Luke shows us where to begin – prayer. In response to their please, “Jesus, Master; have pity on me,” he freed them of the fears, emptiness and wounds that bound them. Christ can do the same for us as many of you know. Once freed of the fears, emptiness and wounds that bind you, you discovered that like the Samaritan, like Christ, you are able to love each and every person in every circumstance and experience – without condition! Be grateful if that is your experience for you are well on your way to being fully human!