As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Then were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Gospel according to St. Luke 17:11-19
Most of us have needed healing or cleansing of our diseases of body, mind, heart or soul. When weighed down by depression, lust, greed, cancer, poverty, shame, bitterness, relentless grief, unfaithfulness, or oppression… we cry out from a distance, “Jesus Master! Have pity on us!” After Jesus answers our prayer, however, only one out of ten of us recognizes the cleansing, returns out of joy, and gives thanks to our Beloved and Faithful God.
Through the suffering and death with Jesus, we discover how loved we are by God. He has told us through cleansing baptism, “I God, take you to be my beloved. I promise to be faithful to you in good times and in bad times, sickness and health (including mental illness, drug addiction). I will love you for all of eternity, not just to death when you part from this world.
If we have died with him we shall also live with him:
If we persevere, we shall also reign with him.
But if we deny him he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. (St. Paul to Timothy)
Is it possible that this hurricane cleansed something in us that we didn’t even realize needed healing? The safety and life of our loved ones mattered the most. Yes, we have anxiety over our homes and possessions. But most importantly, we care about each other. Our hostility is transformed into hospitality, our loneliness to solitude, our isolation to community, and our illusions to genuine prayer.
From time to time in each of our lives, we have a dis-ease, like leprosy, where we experience being an outcast to society. Broken is interpreted as not beautiful. We are even repulsed by our own leprosy. Leprosy is one of those skin diseases that eats away at our body and sometimes our soul.
One time, as a baby priest, I visited a leper colony in Kingston, Jamaica. As we pilgrims with Food for the Poor approached the home from our mini-bus, I could hear the most beautiful music of my life. The joy coming from that home was luring me into the building. I noticed the bounce in my feet as I approached.
When I entered and saw the many residents with the deformities that come from a treatable disease that is not treated in the poorest of the poor… I was shocked. I was moved with pity. Unlike the story in the Gospel today, they didn’t cry out to Jesus or me for pity. For they were already cleansed by Jesus through their faith. It took a few minutes for my emotions to catch up to the truth.
The sisters and caretakers directed me to a seat between Lillian and Martin, both elderly. The disease blinded Martin, but he was singing and swaying to the music. Then he recited a most eloquent poem about the beauty of the soul and inner sight. Lillian had no fingers and no feet for they were decimated by the relentless leprosy. I’m not sure she could see with her physical eyes. But she was singing with joy and clapping her pancake hands with heavenly rhythm and abandon. She was broken but most beautiful. She broke into song singing praise.
As I began to sing reluctantly with this intoxicating and fragrant celebration, Lillian leaned into me and sang into my ear, “Isn’t God good?!” With tears streaming from my eyes and realizing my own healing, I rejoiced with her and cried out, “All the time!”
Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of Elisha, the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy. 2 Kings 5:14-17 (His flesh was better than before the leprosy.)