Back in June on the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, St. Luke concluded chapter nine of his Gospel by telling us that Jesus resolutely determined to move toward Jerusalem. Between Galilee and Jerusalem lies the territory known as Samaria. In today’s Gospel passage we hear that Jesus has traveled through Samaria and is drawing near Judea and the city of Jerusalem. There he is met by ten lepers – nine Jewish men and one Samaritan. Ordinarily, Jews and Samaritans do not associate with one another. However, leprosy has made it necessary for the nine Jews to include a Samaritan in order to provide ten men – a minyan – the number necessary if Jews wish to pray publicly.
As they encounter Jesus, they address him as Master. Keeping their distance, they ask him to have pity on them. Jesus instructs them to go to the priests of the Temple so that they can be declared clean. While they are on their way, they realize that the leprosy has been washed away. They have been cured. The question remains, have they been healed?
The words “healing” and “curing” are used interchangeably, but their definitions could not be more different. Curing is a restoration of health, an absence of symptoms, and a remedy of disease. Healing, on the other hand, is a restoration of wholeness — not the level of wholeness before the diagnosis, but a restoration of wholeness that is new, different, and comparatively better than before the onset of disease. Healing is not the removal or cessation of symptoms, but rather an integrative process that transcends the physical and includes mental, emotional, and spiritual vitality and wellness.
Jesus demonstrates throughout his ministry that he cures and heals. Today’s reading demonstrates that more powerfully than in any other story of the Gospel. The nine Jewish lepers, realizing that they have been cured, hurry off to the Temple to present themselves to the priests. Until they accomplish this, they are forbidden to return to their families, forbidden to enter the synagogue, and forbidden to enter into any commercial enterprise. The one Samaritan leper is not under the same requirements. He returns to Jesus inasmuch as he knows that he would not be permitted to enter into the presence of the priests. He falls at the feet of Jesus, a gesture of worship that indicates that he recognizes that Jesus is more than a teacher or master. While the ten lepers were all cured, only one was healed.
Paired with this story is a similar story from the Hebrew Scripture. The verses immediately before our reading demonstrate that Naaman is too proud to do as Elisha, the prophet of Israel, has commanded. He exclaims: “Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” However, his servants beg him to acquiesce. Like the Samaritan leper, he comes to faith through his experience. He acknowledges the God of Israel. People of that culture and age believed that the gods were wedded to the earth so Naaman asks for two carts of soil from Israel so that he can return home and worship God on God’s native soil.
While these readings definitely include the notion of gratitude, these incidents are really much more about faith. While the Jewish priests and leaders put their faith in the Law, Naaman and the Samaritan leper realize that faith is about one’s relationship to God rather than the Law. They are physically cured, but they are also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually well.
In his Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul once again includes a hymn from the community worship which sings of the kind of faith which will heal us. If we die with Christ, we will live with him. If we persevere, we will reign with Christ in heaven. Even if we fail and sin, God will always be faithful. This is the true meaning of faith; namely, loyalty to the God who created us and heals us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually when we express our love and our sorrow for our sins.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator