As Jesus continue his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
In today’s Old Testament reading from 2 Kings and today’s Gospel from Luke we encounter men who are stricken with leprosy. We’re not exactly sure what condition they had. It was not likely what we consider leprosy today, or Hansen’s Disease, for there’s no historical record that such existed in ancient Palestine. Any condition of the skin was regarded as leprosy and unclean, including eczema, psoriasis, and seborrhea. In Naaman’s case, while he was not exiled, we can presume that his status among the people was not what it could be, which is why he sought healing. Or it may simply be that his “leprosy,” whatever it was, was uncomfortable and embarrassing to him.
It was recommended to Naaman that he see the prophet in Israel, because the prophet could heal him. He went to the king, who misinterpreted Naaman’s letter and suspected mischief on the part of these Arameans. I guess it’s the natural tendency of kings to suspect mischief of others. Elisha instructed the king to send Naaman to him. Elisha’s confidence is not in himself, of course, but in God. God had used Elisha as the instrument of His grace before, and Elisha was confident that God would do so again.
I find it interesting that Naaman became angry when Elisha instructed him to wash in the Jordan. It’s such a simple thing, and it seems that was the problem. Naaman expected great things. Lights, camera, action! The fact that Naaman was asked to do something so simple caused him to lose confidence in Elisha’s authority. Besides, the rivers of Damascus were clear and cool mountain streams, suitable for bathing and healing. The Jordan was dark and muddy. Naaman may have thought it more likely he would emerge from the Jordan sicker than he already was! His servant convinced him to give it a go and, when he did, much to his surprise, Naaman was healed of his leprosy.
Now Naaman’s attitude takes a 180. No longer angry at Elisha, he is grateful and promises to worship only the God of Israel, who has shown Himself to truly be God. He will carry home mule loads of earth from Israel to set up an altar and make sacrifices to the God of Israel when he returns to Damascus. He will take a bit of Israel home with him because this is the land that belongs to the God who healed him. He is grateful, as he should be. He has been touched by God’s grace and his life will never be the same. He acknowledges that and is willing to manifest that in his actions by worshipping no longer the false gods of his homeland, but only the God of Israel. The God who is God.
The lesson for us from Naaman’s story is that when we experience God’s grace in our lives, it should change us. We should acknowledge that and give thanks and manifest that in how we act in this world. God’s grace is transformative. Another lesson is that we should take God on His terms, not ours. Naaman at first didn’t like what Elisha told him to do to be healed. His intransigence almost lost him the opportunity to be healed. Instead, he eventually accepted Elisha’s instructions and was touched by God’s grace as a result. The bottom line is: If God tells you to wash in the Jordan seven times, then wash in the Jordan seven times. God knows what He’s doing, and our tendency to think we know better will lose us opportunities to experience His blessings.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters not one, but ten lepers. These lepers are outcasts, required to stay apart from others and announce their coming lest anyone accidentally get too close. They stand at a distance from Jesus, calling out to Him, “Jesus, master, have pity on us!” Jesus instructs them to show themselves to the priest. This is in accordance with the Law as written in the Book of Leviticus. When someone is healed of a leprous sore, he or she must show themselves to a priest, who is the only one who can declare them clean. The ten run off. This act alone requires some faith, for if the ten didn’t believe Jesus could heal them, they wouldn’t have heeded His instruction.
Yet one is different from the others. The language of the Gospel is important, I think. It says, “one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice…” Did the others not realize they had been healed? Eventually, of course, they’ll find out, when they reach the priest, and the priest confirms that they are clean. But how often has God touched us with His grace and we failed to realize it immediately, or even at all? Thinking back on those moments when we were despondent, hopeless, traumatized by events, wondering how we were to manage through yet another crisis, or even, as in the case of the leper, terribly ill to the point of wondering when or if we would recover – yet, now, here we are. We somehow got through it. Somehow? No. Not somehow. By God’s grace we got through it.
Of course, God doesn’t only pour out His grace on us during troubles. The many blessings we’ve experienced, the successes, the pitfalls avoided, the crises averted, the good outcomes and, especially, the sacramental moments: these, too, are moments of grace.
The lesson to take home from the healing of the ten lepers is to keep our eyes and minds and hearts open to God’s grace moving in our lives, so that we will realize when it does, and we can return to Him and give thanks. Our thanksgiving, our gratitude, will be the evidence of our faith, and it is our faith that will save us.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.