9 Oct 2016
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
They stood at a distance from him, and cried out, “Jesus, Master, Have pity on us!” And he said to them all, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” So they did what he had said. And as they were on the journey, they were all cleansed, but only one realized it. And that one turned back to show himself to the one and only priest: Jesus. And there, no longer at a distance from his Lord, but now touching his very feet, he gave thanks for God’s good grace. Communion was reestablished between God and at least a part of humanity. And the man was sent out, not away from Jesus, but to continue glorifying God with his life, and with the Spirit of Jesus, the spirit of living faith alive in his soul.
Now, if that little story sounds familiar, it should—it’s the gospel reading we just heard a minute ago. But it might sound familiar for another reason. It’s familiar because we live this little story every single time we come to celebrate the Mass. Let me tell the story again . . .
The ten of them—which in Jewish terms signifies an assembly—the ten of them, the assembly was together. They stood at a distance from Jesus, because their leprosy, their sin, was such that they could not get close to him. And they knew that he was the one who stands above everyone else. And so, together, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy!” “Lord Jesus, you healed the sick: Lord, have mercy! Lord Jesus, you forgave sinners: Christ, have mercy! Lord Jesus, you raise us to new life: Lord, have mercy!”
And, in response, he spoke to them his words. And they listened to the Word of the Lord and, in their hearts, said, “Thanks be to God! And Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ!” And they went to show themselves to the priests; to open their hearts and minds to the teaching and healing ministry of the priests. They broke open their hearts in faith, in humble obedience to Jesus, and with hope that better days would come their way. After all, that’s why they assembled before Jesus; he’s the Savior; he’s the one who knows.
And it happened that they were all healed; all ten of them—the whole assembly! But only that one person realized it. He was the only one paying attention! He’s the only one who really meant it when he said, “Lord, have mercy!” He’s the only one who really meant it when he said, “Jesus, Master.” The nine others wanted healing very sincerely. But they expected it to come from the priests; the priests were their saviors; the priests were their masters. Not that the priests were bad; they weren’t. They were good servants of God—just like the prophet Elisha we heard about today.
But the priests weren’t God—they still aren’t. So, did Jesus send them on a wild goose chase? No, not really. God often times uses our neighbors as instruments of his grace and mercy. God doesn’t work alone. Those nine other members of the assembly were simply following Jesus’ instructions and going to the people he sent them to. The priests were servants of God, after all. But in sending them to the priests, Jesus was really sending them to . . . himself.
Perhaps that’s where the problem was: they were simply following Jesus’ instructions, not realizing that the instructions are meant to lead them back to Jesus himself. Of course, you know, that one who’d realized he’d been cleansed could’ve told them. But, then again, he was a Samaritan; he was an outsider, a foreigner. He was part of the assembly . . . but not really.
Now, he was singing God’s praises; surely, others must have heard him. Apparently, though, they didn’t. I guess they weren’t interested in his story. They weren’t interested in the way God was working in his life. There was no communion, no real community there. And that’s too bad, because those other nine lepers lost out on an opportunity for real healing. Oh well.
Now, that one person who’d been healed went right up to Jesus. There was communion between the two of them. He turned back to give thanks—not to the priests, not to his neighbors, but to God himself. If you remember Elisha and Naaman: Elisha won’t accept Naaman’s gift of thanks. He says, “As the Lord lives whom I serve, I will not take it.” In short, Elisha is saying, “Give the thanks to . . . God.” And that’s what our cleansed leper did. He turned back and gave thanks to Jesus.
The Scriptures use the Greek word, “eucharíston.” He “fell [on his face] at the feet of Jesus and eucharíston.” Literally, he gave homage to God’s “good grace.” When we ourselves assembly to eucharíston, that’s precisely what we do. We come right up to the feet of Jesus, we “show ourselves” to the one and only priest, and we give homage to God’s “good grace.” And the homage we give—the sacrifice we offer—is a heart and mind open, in faith, to God’s presence in our lives . . . and in the lives of our neighbors.
And so, the man was sent out, not away from Jesus, but to continue glorifying God with his life, and with the Spirit of Jesus, the spirit of faith and real communion alive in his soul. It’s a very familiar story, the story of the cleansing of the leper. It’s a story we “act out” at every single Mass. Of course, the challenge is to not simply act it out, ritually, but to live it out as brothers and sisters in the vast assembly of God all over, which stands at a distance from Jesus and says, “Lord, have mercy! Jesus, Master, have mercy!” And he does. He has mercy on us—simply because he loves us.
The Samaritan leper believed that. And we know how his story of faith turned out. We know how God’s “good grace” was present in his life. The question is: Do we believe it? Regardless of what others say about us, do we believe it? Is Jesus the one who oversees all of creation? Is Jesus the Lord? Is he really merciful and happy to forgive? Does he love me? If the answer is: yes, yes, yes, and yes, then what other response can there be but to turn back to him and offer him the Eucharist—our homage to God’s “good grace.”