At the outset of this story ten men are stuck – stuck in “limbo” land having to distance themselves – socially, religiously, and physically – from all but other lepers. By the end of the story, all ten were made well. But one has something more. He has seen Jesus, recognized his blessing and rejoiced. He saw – REALLY saw, what had happened. He was not only healed, but was made whole, restored, drawn back into relationship with God and his family, friends and neighbors. In all these ways he won salvation.
The story tells us that ten men encountered Jesus and called out (the scripture say “loudly” or yelled.) “We want to be well!” You may know that leprosy also attacks the vocal chords so that these men probably could only make a raspy sound. But that didn’t stop them from raising their voices and crying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus appears to do nothing, but quietly directs the men: “Go, show yourselves to the priest.” Now, you have to understand that the local priest, besides leading worship services, was also something of a health official. It wash his responsibility to test and certify a complete removal of the dread disease and then to announce that the person was healed.
As these men took heed of Jesus’ words and set out in search of the priest, one of the ten looked at the other and that one looked at the rest and the screaming began! Smiles broke into cheering! It was sweet madness! They raced off in all directions, hardly believing that the nightmare was finally over.
But notice the men had to start a journey in faith before their circumstances began to change even one tiny bit. We are not told whether the ten lepers had a debate about whether or not to go to the priest. I can imagine them arguing, “We’re going to look like fools if we show up before the priest in our present condition!” Another countered, “Yes, but we’ve got nothing to lose; this is our only hope.” “But it hurts to walk on these leprous feet!” “But maybe if we do what He says, we’ll be healed.” “This isn’t the way He healed the other lepers. Why doesn’t He heal us in the same way?” “I don’t know, but we must obey.” Now, maybe they didn’t have any such debate since the text doesn’t record any. But at any rate, it says, “As they were going, they were cleansed.” It must have been a marvelous experience!
One of the men came back to Jesus. The gospel does not make it clear whether he had seen the priest and been declared clean. The evangelist tells us he praised God. He was thankful. He was public about it. He was loud – he wasn’t shy at all.
Why was he so loud? This guy had been forced to yell for as long as he’d had leprosy. It might have been years. He’d probably yelled so long, he didn’t know how to come to the Lord quietly, or even speak in a normal voice. When he came back and fell at the feet of Jesus, he was louder than the normal person, and he was praising God. He had reversed his steps, put his family on hold, put the priest on hold, and came back to the one who was the Cause of his celebration. His response, his thankfulness led to action.
Jesus asked: “Where are the other nine?” They had got what they wanted from God in terms of healed bodies. But, according to the story, they never returned to Jesus to receive salvation. They received the temporal benefit of healed bodies, but it is only to the one thankful leper who returned, to whom Jesus proclaimed, “Your faith has saved you.”
It’s the same for us. It is possible to receive special blessings from God in answer to prayer, and yet to fall short of the best blessing of all. When we realize that God has blessed us with some temporal blessing, we must not become satisfied with that alone. We must give thanks to the source of all blessings.
A story is told of a man who was lost in the woods. Later, he shared with his friend how frightened he had been. He said he was so scared he fell to his knees and prayed: “Please God, I know I’ve strayed sometimes but right now I pray you show me the path straight out of this jungle of trees.” His friend remarked: “Well, obviously God answered your prayer, didn’t He?” “Oh, no,” the man replied. “Before God had a chance, a guide came along and showed me the way.”
~by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB
First Reading 2 Kings 5:14-17
Second Reading 2 Timothy 2:8-13
Gospel Reading Luke 17:11-19