2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19
What are the readings about this week? A few obvious themes would be: sickness, faith, obedience to faith, healing, gratitude. A little deeper under the surface are: sin, reconciliation and salvation (saving faith).
Of course, there are others: the mystery of God’s ways, the limitations of human wisdom, our helplessness in the face of death; the absolute need for communion with God, the human hunger for freedom and life; all these and more are embedded in the scriptural texts today.
Sickness and sin I once visited my doctor with some vague aches and pains which he found difficult to diagnose. He suggested we wait ‘until the symptoms declare themselves more fully’. I was so struck by that phrase that I took care to remember it and am glad I did so.
Diseases, both physical and moral, have causes, symptoms and outcomes. Naaman, the leper of our first reading, would have discovered on a certain day that all was not right with him. He would have discovered a pimple, or an itchy rash, or simply a swelling. Later on, as the symptoms declared themselves more fully, he would have come to realise he was a leper. And the effects of the disease would have been isolation from family and friends and, eventually, from the entire community.
No wonder then that leprosy became the archetype for grave sin which, on a spiritual level, has the same consequences as that horrible disease, alienating us from Christ and the community and ending in spiritual death. It must have been a painful day for Naaman, and for the ten men of the gospel, when each one first acknowledged: I am a leper; just as it is always a painful moment for a man or woman forced to admit: I am a sinner.
Obedience to faith Naaman trusted the words of the prophet – though he needed some coaxing from his servants. The ten lepers immediately trusted in the words of Jesus; and all of them obeyed their trust. Naaman washed seven times in the Jordan and the ten lepers went off to show themselves to the priests as they were commanded. Quite clearly, they put their faith into action and obtained the physical cure of their ailment.
As wonderful as this was, to be healed of a terminal illness, we all know that the respite was only temporary; death still stood confidently ready to, sooner or later, claim each one of these men.
Gratitude Naaman found something much more than a mere postponement of his death; he found eternal life. His gratitude to the God who had healed him prompted him to desire a relationship with him because, as Naaman declared: Now I know ... that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. He asked to be allowed to take with him some of the soil of Israel, presumably so that he might build on it an altar or a prayer place: ...because your servant will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.
The Samaritan leper who returned to Jesus was similarly prompted by gratitude to praise God. He constituted ten percent of those who had been cured and, interestingly, this is about the same percentage as the number of Catholics who come to give praise to God each week in the Mass here in Australia.
To those who absent themselves Jesus might well say: Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?
Saving Faith There are many who claim to believe; who claim to have faith. Ten lepers came to Jesus to ask for a cure. They had faith that he could do this for them and they were not disappointed. But only one leper got more than he asked for; only one had saving faith. He came for a healing but found God in Jesus who said: Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you. Not only was he healed; he was saved.
This poor leper found the Good News and experienced its power. He praised God at the top of his voice as he ‘threw himself at the feet of Jesus’ – another profound and wonderful image!
We, too, have so much for which to be grateful; so much for which to ‘throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus’ as we give praise to God so that, as St Paul says in the second reading, in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.