HOMILY ON THE TEN LEPERS
Brothers and Sisters,
Ten lepers were healed, yet only one returned to gives thanks to God. The message is so clear, so simple. Yet, how easy it is for us to forget God’s healing; how easy it is to be one of the nine who simply go their way as if God didn’t exist and as if God wasn’t responsible for the miracles in our lives. Let’s remember what the Apostle Paul said to us in the Epistle Reading:
Christ is our peace. He reconciles Jews and Gentiles. He fulfills the Law so as to establish a new Law of love that unites us all. He gives us new birth so that we become new creatures. He Who is un-dying died on the Cross to kill our death. He came Himself to teach and heal us. He gained access for us to the Father. He made us members of His own Family. He gave us Apostles and Prophets for a foundation. He gave us the Church. He made us the dwelling place of God. There you have it – ten cures, ten healings which God worked for us and in us. And what is our reaction? And how do we show our gratitude toward God?
First let me share with you a little story from the Life of St Macarius of Alexandria. It goes like this:
A hyena, having a blind whelp, took it in her mouth and delivered it to St. Makarios of Alexandria. She pushed open the hatch of his dwelling with her head, went inside, and threw her whelp at his feet. St. Makarios picked it up and ascertained that it was blind. He spat on its eyes and prayed; the whelp then immediately opened its eyes. After suckling it, its mother took it and departed.
On the following day, the hyena brought St. Makarios the hide of a large sheep. The Saint looked at it and said to her: Where did you find this? You must have eaten a sheep. And so, since it is the result of an injustice, I will not accept it from you. The hyena then bowed her head, knelt, and left the hide at the Saints feet.
The Saint said to her: I tell you, I will not accept it, unless you swear to me that you will never again cause distress to poor folk by eating their sheep. At this, she nodded her head, as if to agree with St. Makarios. The Saint then accepted the hide which the hyena had, in gratitude, brought him.
What is the moral of this little story? It’s two-fold. First, it shows us that gratitude is something essential to our spiritual lives. Even God’s creatures can demonstrate it. Second, as a response to God’s beneficence, it is our responsibility to amend our lives, and to change our behavior.
Allow me, please, to share with you a reflection that comes from my patron saint, St Basil the Great. He wrote:
“As you take your seat at the table, pray. As you lift up the loaf of bread, offer thanks to the One Who gave it to you. When you strengthen your body by means of a little wine, remember Him Who supplies you with this gift, to make your heart glad and to comfort your infirmity. Has your need for food disappeared? Don’t let the thought of your Benefactor disappear too. As you are putting on your clothes, thank the Giver of them. As you put on your coat, feel even greater love for God, Who both in summer and in winter has given us appropriate coverings to preserve not only our life, but also our modesty. Is the day done? Give thanks to Him Who has given us the sun for our daily work, and has provided for us a fire to light up the night, and to serve the rest of the needs of life. Let night give the other occasion of prayer. When you look up to heaven and gaze at the beauty of the stars, pray to the Lord of the visible world; praise and supplicate God, the Architect and Builder of the universe, Who in wisdom made them all.”
And St Theophan the Recluse writes: “Remind yourself often, that He has granted you much grace in the past and has shown you His love. He has created you out of nothing in His own likeness and image...He has delivered you from your slavery to the devil, sending down not one of His angels but His Only-begotten Son to redeem you, not at the price of corruptible gold and silver, but by His priceless blood and His most painful and degrading death. Having done all this He protects you, every hour and every moment, from your enemies; He fights your battles by His divine grace; in His immaculate Mysteries He prepares the Body and Blood of His beloved Son for your food and protection. All this is a sign of God’s great favour and love for you; a favour so great that it is inconceivable how the great Lord of hosts could grant such favours to our nothingness and worthlessness.”(Unseen Warfare)
How can we ever forget what the angels sang at the very moment when Christ was born in Bethlehem? “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. This is praise coupled with remembrance of God’s great grace. And if we acquire this same attitude of a grateful heart and if we constantly remind ourselves of God’s great benefits, we will naturally be inclined to change our lives, change our behaviour, and become different people. Do you remember the story of the Three Holy Youths in the fiery furnace? As they walked around in the midst of the flames, unburnt and unharmed, Azariah offered up a prayer: ““Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise; and thy name is glorified for ever. For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true and thy ways right, and all thy judgments are truth...For we have sinfully and lawlessly departed from thee, and have sinned in all things and have not obeyed thy commandments; we have not observed them or done them, as thou hast commanded us that it might go well with us...Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and may we wholly follow thee, for there will be no shame for those who trust in thee” (Daniel 3:24 ff LXX).
So, the gratitude of the leper, the repentance and amendment of life of the hyena and the Three Holy Youths in the fiery furnace, all lead us to take into account all the blessings and miracles God has wrought for us and for those we love, and to change our lives because of it. Amen.