28th Sunday Year C - Homily 4


Homily 4 - 2019

To be a leper in Jesus’ day was to be pushed to the periphery, to be assiduously avoided, to be classified as sinner in a God-dominated world. To be a Samaritan may have been worse. That meant to be hated and labeled a heretic. To be a Samaritan leper was to be the lowest of the low. The other lepers with whom he associated may even have instinctively despised him. That a Samaritan leper front up to a Jewish priest, of all people, and expect him to declare him clean would have been totally unreal.

Yet alone of the ten, he returned to Jesus, ecstatically praising God and profusely thanking Jesus for healing him – more than that, for reinstating him, for treating him respectfully and for simply taking seriously his human dignity. It was of this man that, of only two or three other people in Luke’s gospel, Jesus commented, “Your faith has saved you.” In this case, the Samaritan had indicated his faith by his excited praising of God.

Let us use our imaginations and look more closely. I wonder if, over time, lepers in Israel might have tended to internalise the general attitude of their co-religionists and seen themselves as sinners, and interpreted their disability as indication that they were rejected, perhaps even punished, by God. In that case, this leper may have seen his healing as giving the lie to all that the culture had said of him. For no reason, God had healed him through Jesus.

God’s healing action had been totally gratuitous. What did that say of God? To the Samaritan leper, at least, it said that God loved him, that he was not worthless, that he must have had a dignity that he had not realized before. And in realizing that God loved him, and for no reason, perhaps he began to realize that God must be like that – that God just loves, that God loves both Samaritans and Jews, that God may even love everyone.

Once that breakthrough had been made, I wonder if he began to see life differently. Certainly, in this incident, he saw God’s hand at work through Jesus – and his spontaneous reaction was to thank Jesus lavishly. Did he begin to see the hand of God at work, I wonder, in other places and times where he had never noticed it before? I wonder if, after all this, his heart began to fill constantly with joyful praise as he increasingly saw and responded to God everywhere. Might that even be a dimension of the experience of salvation?

Jesus sadly asked about the other nine. They did the religious thing. They no doubt went to the local priest, who duly declared them cleansed of their leprosy. They were no doubt glad. Their lives would have been changed: No need to live rough outdoors. They could be reunited with their families and loved ones. They could get a job again. They could take their places once more in the synagogue. Somehow it seems they took it all for granted.

Can religion sometimes be like that? It inserts us into the story of redemption. It puts us in touch with the sacred, the marvellous. But in our security, we miss the excitement. We don’t bubble over with either gratitude or joyful praise. We are not generally noted for the smile on our face or the spring in our step.

What made it all happen, where it all started, for the Samaritan leper was precisely his disability. It could have been the same for the other nine. They got the healing. That was something. But they missed out on what could have been – the inner change, the inner growth enabling them to see God everywhere in life, and to rejoice.

Disability or serious illness often provide the context for breakthrough. So too can experiencing true love. A contemplative stance towards life can also open up to unexpected possibilities.