December 8th, 2019

The Ten Lepers

Homily on the Virtue of Gratitude
Luke 17:11-19; Sunday, December 8, 2019

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear Ones,

What’s going on in the Gospel today? The Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples are nearing a village. On the outskirts of town they encounter a group of lepers from a colony outside of the village. Lepers, in ancient times, were considered both physically and ritually “unclean” by the Law of Moses. Leviticus 13 says: “And the leper in whom the plague is, let his garments hang loose, and his head uncovered; and let him have a covering put upon his mouth, and he shall be called unclean. All the days in which the plague shall be upon him, being unclean, he shall be accounted as unclean; he shall dwell apart, his place of sojourn shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13: 45-46). Because the disease was so communicable, lepers had to keep away from people and could not live in the same communities as the healthy. The holy fathers suggest that the lepers represent, in a spiritual way, the whole of humanity, because the number ten suggests “fullness.” How many commandments did God give to Moses? Ten. What percentage of a person’s income did God require to be given for the support of the temple and the priesthood. Ten percent! There are many other such examples. So, their leprosy represents the fullness of human sin, corruption, and fallenness leading to death and that afflicts us all. The ten lepers had to keep their distance. They came as close as they dared to come. Even so, they had to shout to be heard by Jesus. St. Theophylact of Ochrid says:
“In their physical location they were standing far away, but in their request they were very near, for as David sings: 'The Lord is near unto all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth' (Psalm 144:18 LXX).”

Interestingly, they don't ask to be healed. Did you notice that? They only cry out for mercy. But ‘mercy’ is a very broad word. It can mean “compassion,” it can mean “forgiveness,” it can mean “charity,” or it can mean “healing.” It means each of these and all of these. What do you think we mean when we continuously sing, chant, and pray “Lord have mercy?” We mean all of these!

How does Jesus answer them? He simply responds by telling them to go the priests. He does not say, "You are healed." There's no promise of future healing. He doesn't approach them, He doesn't touch them. He doesn’t give them any money. He does nothing to lead them to think they might get better. What did He say to them? He said very simply, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.' By these few words Jesus puts these men to the test. By going to the priests it means that they believe they will be healed by the time they get there! It's a test of their faith. Will they go or not? Do they believe that healing will take place? All we see is that they go. And in the going they notice they're healed. We read, "As they went they were made clean."

Their response is interesting. Amongst the ten lepers there is only one who jubilantly returns. He doesn't wait for the priest's certification of his healing. He turns around and returns to Jesus. He's praising God and his praises were heard by everybody. Loud calls for mercy have now turned to loud shouts of thanks and praise. In this praising the leper shows that he realizes where this merciful act of Jesus comes from. It comes from the very heart of God. He acknowledges God as the source of his healing and he recognizes the
God-Man Jesus as the vehicle of that healing. St. Theophylact writes:
“Of the ten lepers, the nine who were Israelites showed themselves to be ungrateful, while it was the Samaritan, the hated foreigner...who returned to voice his gratitude.”

When the one, healed, former-leper returns to Jesus, his gratitude is full of humility as he prostrates himself before Him. He knows that he has been healed at a much deeper level than the others, but that was because he embraced that deeper healing. For the Jews the test was about the observance of the Law, but for the Samaritan, the test was more about his heart. He is “whole” because not only his body, but his soul is also cured; the whole man was healed. Jesus recognizes in this man the attitude that enables salvation to come to him. And that same attitude needs to be present in us as well. That’s why the Holy Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Church in Philippi:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4: 4-7).

And Joshua ben Sira writes:

“I will praise your name continually, and will sing hymns of thanksgiving. My prayer was heard, for you saved me from destruction and rescued me in time of trouble. For this reason I thank you and praise you, and I bless the name of the Lord” (Sirach 51: 11-12).

As we go on our way in life, let’s make sure that part of that way is God's way, the way of Gratitude, the Way of Grace, the way of the Samaritan, the way of the former leper. May we also discover our calls for mercy turning into great shouts of praise -- praise to our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.