Jesus, Master, have pity on us!
The Sunday Word: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100916.cfm
In this age of medical miracles, vaccinations, antibiotics, aspirin, x-rays, cancer treatment, open heart surgeries, organ donors, vitamins and cures and potential cures for just about everything that infects us, it may be very difficult to imagine a society with none of those medical advancements. We would be helpless victims of just about everything that would threaten us. With a primitive understanding of bacteria, infection, and how the human body works, we might well become fatalistic. If you’re terminally ill, that’s it. Your time is up. No hope for a cure, short of a miracle.
Life might become a day by day existence with no expectation of living much beyond the age of 30 – 40, if you are lucky enough to survive childhood. Those who are healthy would keep well away from those who appear sick. Those afflicted with physical or mental disabilities, would be labeled as punished for some wrong they must have done. For a moment, imagine such a society.
If we can, we would walk in the world of Jesus’ time. The familiar story in our Gospel this Sunday reveals both cultural prejudice and the outward boundaries which Jesus’ challenged the society of his time. Yet, not only his own time but the new vision he came to bring about God’s mercy, forgiveness and hope, not just for the healthy and strong but for all.
The story names leprosy as the disease these unfortunate souls, these “ten lepers” suffered with. Would you like to be identified by the condition you suffer rather than by your name or your humanity? No longer would you be John or Mary being treated for cancer. Now you would be “those cancerous ones” or “those cancerites” or some such dehumanizing identity. Such a label would cause more pain than the disease itself. These unclean ones must be kept far away from the community of the healthy and their humanity was diminished in kind. Such was true in the time of our Lord.
It’s interesting to note that the affliction of leprosy as we imagine with the lepers of Molokai and St. Fr. Damian was apparently non-existent in the middle east in the time of Jesus. That condition, or Hansen's disease as it is known, has been discovered by anthropologists as a later import from India. At the time of Jesus any condition of the skin which appeared “unclean” automatically separated the clean from the seriously sick or deformed.
So, whatever was their physical appearance, it was enough to have thrown these ten individuals far away from the community. The physical separation and the boundaries established were clear. Yet, in reaching out, in pushing those limits farther apart, the story this Sunday is far more than a miracle event. It is more than just a physical cure.
What Jesus has done for those on the fringe is welcome them into his family. The new challenge of community centered in Christ is to look beyond prejudice, fear, pride, selfishness and gossip to a family of brothers and sisters. We are united in our diversity because of Jesus Christ. And this should lead us to gratitude of the deepest kind.
As the one who was cured, like Naaman in our first reading who insisted that Elisha receive a gift of thanksgiving for his cure, this one man returned to Jesus not offering any specific gift other than his overwhelming thanks. He did far more than just come up to Jesus and shake his hand. Luke tells us he, “ . . . fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him . . .” He returned “glorifying God in a loud voice.” He knew the source of his healing and was deeply humbled by it. He recognized Jesus as one of God; as one who healed not just his body but his entire person; as one who treated him not as a “leper” but as a person deserving of value.
The celebration of our Holy Eucharist is a moment to bring our limitations, our sin, our own “leprosy” if need be to this same God in the person of Jesus to be healed and even more to receive not just hope but Christ himself in the Eucharist.
When is the last time you felt truly grateful for the Mass? To know that we too are members of Christ’s family called the Church is a fact that bears much reflection. Is our prejudice, laziness, or “same old, same old” attitude keeping us from truly grasping what God has done for us in the Eucharist? Much to ponder I think.
May your grace, O Lord, we pray,
at all times go before us and follow after
and make us always determined
to carry out good works.
(Collect of Mass)