“Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17.17-19)
One of the most remarkable stories I ever heard is what happened during a CCD class session. The confirmation kids were invited to come up on a stage and recite some Bible verses which they had learnt by heart.
One of the boys happened to be a cripple, a hunchback. As he started to hobble across the stage as best he could, with his terribly humped back, an older boy thoughtlessly cried out, “Hey, crip, take the pack off your back!” A forbidding hush fell on the whole audience. The little boy broke down in tears, and couldn’t go on. Then, a man stood up, came on the stage, stood beside this little boy and said, “I don’t know who is the smart guy who made this stupid remark but I want to tell you who this boy is. This boy is my son. And I am very proud of him, because he is mine!” And he picked him up in his arms and walked off the stage.
An amazing story on all counts. What is more amazing is that this is our story and God’s story. We can understand how God could love Jesus – who wouldn’t love him? He is the most handsome, the most caring of all men. What is difficult for us to understand is how can God the Father possibly love us the same way. But the good news is exactly this : in all our hunchbacked, crippled, broken, beaten condition, God stands beside us and says, “I’m proud of him; he’s mine!” And He picks us up and carries us on through life.
This is very important to understand the real meaning of this Gospel story. Ten lepers approach Jesus. Leprosy at the time was a dreadful and hopeless disease. A skin disease which gradually consumes fingers, hands, feet, arms, legs, and face, it makes humans disgusting to behold. White leprosy seemed to be most common among the Hebrews at the time of Jesus. With it the sufferer became white from head to foot. The leper, by the law of Moses, Leviticus 13, was regarded unclean and was separated from the people. The rabbis had even determined the exact distance which the lepers had to keep… the distance of a rod, some say, others assert up to a hundred paces. These lepers approach Jesus crying for mercy. Jesus just tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, to have their cure certified and to perform the rites laid down. They go and on the way, the impossible happened – they were all cleansed. One of them returned to thank Jesus and to give praise to God. This guy who returned, happened to be a Samaritan.
Many think that this Gospel is just about gratitude. Only one, they say, was considerate enough to return to thank Jesus. The Gospel records this event to teach us the value of gratefulness. But the Gospel is much deeper.
When the Samaritan man realized that he was healed, he said ‘Gosh! God must be here! The Kingdom of God must have arrived.’ When in the Second Book of Kings, chapter 5, Naaman, a commander of the army of the king of Aram was healed by the prophet Elisha, he returns to the man of God and exclaims : “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!”
This Samaritan cured leper was not merely delighted to be freed from leprosy. He suddenly became aware that he is in front of a bigger mystery, that he was the beneficiary of an enormous blessing. While the nine others were happy and content with just the physical healing, this man saw here he possibility to enter the kingdom of God. The possibility to be truly free. The possibility to enjoy life.
You see in life there is a deeper leprosy and we need a deeper healing. One can be healthy physically and sick emotionally, sick spiritually. Enslaved to our own cravings, desires. When life is tough, many finds ourselves sucking again our mother’s breasts for some kind of infantile pleasure.. sex, eating, religious experiences, TV… This is the true sickening leprosy. These itching yearnings eat us up! Jesus Christ wants to free us from this sucking-our-thumbs-lifestyle.
“In a culture that has difficulty in defining the meaning of life, death and suffering, the Christian message is the good news of Christ’s victory over death and the certain hope of resurrection. … Life is a pilgrimage in faith to the Father, on which we travel in the company of his Son and the Saints in heaven. Precisely for this reason, the very real trial of suffering can become a source of good. Through suffering, we actually have a part in Christ’s redemptive work for the Church and humanity . This is so when suffering is experienced for love and with love through sharing, by God’s gracious gift and one’s own personal and free choice, in the suffering of Christ crucified.” This is what the Pope said only a few days ago, October 2, 1998, to the Bishops of California, Nevada, and Hawaii at the conclusion of their “Ad Limina” visit.
Many unfortunately are only after physical healing. They ask God for that and are only interested in that. They do not realize that we have not been created to stay here forever. They do not realize that health is not correlated to happiness. One can be healthy and depressed. And one can be sick and happy. Jesus Christ is interested in healing us interiorly.
Going though a Carmelite mailing list Cincarm – CIN Carmelite Spirituality on the internet, once read this impressive testimony. It is somewhat long but really moving.
“Hello to All!
My name is Melanie. I joined this list hoping to find a spiritual community here on the net. I’m a children’s librarian with three wonderful daughters. My faith has always been important to me, but my experiences over the last year have challenged and deepened my faith in ways I would not have imagined. My son, Zachary, was diagnosed with anencephaly “water on the brain”…the head is very enlarged because of all the fluid when I was fourteen weeks pregnant. We chose to continue the pregnancy, though we knew he would die at or shortly after birth. Through the next six months we tried to come to terms with his condition and prepare ourselves and our children for what was to be. I was more frightened than I can express of what he would look like, how he would die, even whether or not I could love this broken child. The night he was born, though, was beyond imagining. I was surrounded by love and prayer and filled with an amazing sense of God’s presence. It was a night of joy, not sorrow, as all my doubts and fears melted away. I held and loved my little son as he passed from my arms to God’s and KNEW, at last, that God can and does love me in all my own brokenness and imperfection. I’m sending on something I wrote a couple months after Zachary’s birth that expresses a little of what he meant to me.
I thank you, Lord, for my son, Zachary, who has enriched my life in so many ways and has been my teacher in the ways of love.
– because he taught me that love is stronger than death
– because he showed me how love can truly cast out fear
– because he, in his innocence, showed me that you don’t have to be perfect to be worth loving
– because he taught me lessons in loving and letting go that have helped me learn to better mother my preadolescent daughters
– because he brought me new friends and deepened old friendships
– because he taught me to reach deep within myself for strength I did not know I had and how to reach out to others and to You when even that was gone
– because he taught me that death is not always the enemy, but the path that leads to our true home
– because he taught me to celebrate the moments we have with those we love, for they may never come again
– because he taught me that children cannot be shielded from death, but must be led gently to accept it as a part of life
– because he showed me that funerals can be celebrations of love
– because he showed me that in my husband’s eyes lies the promise of eternity
– because he helped me find an extra measure of compassion for the suffering, an extra bit of patience for my children and a renewed sense of the wonder of all creation
– because he taught me that God’s greatest miracles are not those in which He orders the physical world in accordance with our wishes, but those in which He transforms and heals our hearts
– because he was, is and always will be my own beloved child
Born and died July 19, 1996”
Jesus “the doctor of the flesh and of the spirit” (Saint Ignatius of Antioch) can do this and more for you! He can transform your tragedies into graces. He can cure your inside leprosy.
He can and He wants….. if you let him do it!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.