(28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 13)
“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” cry the lepers as Jesus passes by them on the way into the village. The plea for mercy and compassion comes from outcasts. The lepers were shunned by the society due to the disease they carried in their bodies. They were contagious and for the safety of the other villagers they had to be set aside.
The isolation of the lepers was not only a physical one. They were excluded from life in the community. Families were separated. Loved ones could not offer care for their relatives. The lepers were alone. As Jesus passes by “at a distance,” they make their plea. Jesus hears their cry and his compassion pours forth in healing. The mercy of Jesus heals them and restores them to life in the community.
The love of Jesus for those in need is great. This was true of the 10 lepers, and it is true today. Jesus heals. Anyone who comes to Him for mercy will find a compassionate heart ready to heal the wounds, to restore them to the community and to offer them newness of life.
When we look at our lives there is always need for healing. Whatever the hurts, pains, sorrows, or sufferings we face in life Jesus has the power to heal. Where do we go when we feel the pain of a broken relationship; the sorrow at the loss of a loved one; the anxieties of work and the struggle to provide for our families; the stress and demands brought on by our culture; or the sufferings brought on by illness? We go to Jesus for he is the one who heals the wounds at their deepest roots — in the depths of our hearts.
Situations such as those mentioned above but also the isolation that is brought about from sin are all grounded for the compassion of Christ and the healing power of his merciful love. All peoples are invited to share in His mercy and love.
In the readings for today’s liturgy we see the healing power of God bringing forth unexpected faith in the response of those healed. The two figures that represent this are Naaman the Syrian and the Samaritan leper. These two persons are non-Israelites. They are outside the “People of God.” Yet it is these two that demonstrate great faith when they experience God’s mercy and compassion.
Naaman was cleansed by God in the rivers of the Jordan. When Naaman returns to Elisha who had sent him to bath in the Jordan, he proclaims, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” He makes an act of faith. The sacrificial offering he then makes is an act of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.
The Samaritan leper also was considered outside the “People of God.” We are reminded from other passages of the animosity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. Samaritans were considered foreigners, aliens. Yet it is this Samaritan leper who returns to the Lord once he realizes that a healing took place. He returns to the Lord to offer thanks, falling at his feet. His thanksgiving is an act of praise. Both Naaman and the Samaritan remind us that God’s compassion and mercy are not limited to a specific people but are graciously offered to all. All are invited to share in his love and the life he offers through that love. All are invited to faith.
Naaman and the Samaritan leper also provide us with a powerful reminder. They offered praise in thanksgiving to the Lord for his gift of healing. Jesus raises the question when the Samaritan returned: “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” The other nine failed to acknowledge the gift they had received. One question we might ask ourselves today is, “Have I offered thanks to God for the healing I have received?” Do we thank Him for forgiveness of sins? Do we thank Him for prayers answered? Do we thank Him for delivering us from evil? Do we thank Him for the various consolations we receive? Do we recognize the abundant blessings we receive every day because of his mercy?
The thanksgiving and praise offered by Naaman and the Samaritan leper invite us to do the same.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.