28thSunday of the Year ( c ) 2019
I’ve never met a leper. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of them but never seen or met one myself. Fortunately, it has been eradicated from Europe, where it used to be a problem. Both today’s readings speak of leprosy and of healing, even miraculous healing. Jesus heals ten lepers but only one thanks him afterwards. It seems that only one realized that it was Jesus who saved him from this ugly disease. The other nine could not believe their luck but they didn’t think their healing was from the hand of God.
I suspect that you have heard priests equate leprosy with sin; that leprosy is a symbol of sin: something destructive and ugly that can destroy a person’s life. I think it is a good analogy. Sin is ugly and it can indeed destroy people’s lives. There are many people in our society who may not be lepers but who have ugly sins. These can be addictions, temptations or weaknesses that won’t go away. People can live with these for years. Some times an addiction can destroy a person, and not just that person but many of those associated with them. You can see the parallel with leprosy: something ugly, self-destructive that can be ultimately deadly.
What to do? A good question. What did the lepers do? Naaman in the first reading put his trust in God.; against his own better judgement He did what God’s messenger told him. In the Gospel, on the other hand, the ten lepers went to Jesus, and said “take pity on us”. They don’t ask for healing, notice. Maybe because after so many years they have given up believing they can be healed. So they say to Jesus, “have pity on us”. Which of course he does. He heals them all; he does have pity on them. These lepers were pathetic people, they knew it, which was why they turned to Jesus; they believed in him. And this is the point for us.
All of us our lepers in some way; in other words, all of us have sins, failings, weaknesses. Some of us have addictions and life-long difficulties with temptation or one thing or another. It is not wrong to be a leper, it is not wrong to be a sinner; what is wrong is when we don’t turn to the Lord for help; when we don’t ask him to “Have mercy on us”. A sinner, and, as I said, we are all sinners, should be someone who is painfully aware of their sinfulness. They should acknowledge that of themselves they can’t overcome their sin. A good Christian has found this out over the years: try as they might they can’t seem to stop sinning. And so, the good Christian, aware of this, will turn to the Lord in faith, and say: “Lord, have mercy on me”.
Yes, a good Christian will be brought to their knees by their sinfulness. But that is a good place to be. It is an act of humility: to beg the Lord for help. Because he can and wants to help us. Of ourselves we can do little. It is the Lord who heals, who sets us free. But it might take us a lifetime before we find this out.
I remember meeting a lady who was by now a dry alcoholic; she told me she was grateful for being an alcoholic, because of the peace and freedom she had today. She was still fragile and always would be. But then so is every sinner. It is God, and only God, who gives us the strength to overcome. He may take a long time to cure us but so be it; in the mean time we are on our knees praying, but as I said that is a good place to be.