Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Though we might not see lepers on our streets, for antibiotics have alleviated this terrible disease in many areas of the world, it still exists. The stigma applied to those who suffered from it was very exaggerated; ancient communities struggling with the disease, thought it was a punishment from God and isolated those who showed symptoms of it from normal society. We now understand it as a curable infectious disease caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae, which predominantly affects the skin and superficial nerves.
Throughout history leprosy has been one of the most globally prevalent causes of permanent disability, though it has largely disappeared from high-income countries it remains a huge problem in many parts of the low-income world. Therefore in the scriptures we find one of the hallmarks of Jesus' healing ministry, a sign of the Kingdom, is the curing of lepers and their restoration to normal life.
In the story of the ten lepers Luke keeps his focus on one particular leper, a Samaritan, doubly outcast not only from normal healthy life, but also as a foreigner to the Jewish community. We shouldn't get pulled into the rather disingenuous statement Jesus makes when he asks why only one has returned, after all he had told all ten to go and observe the Law and show themselves to the priests so that they could be verified as 'clean' to then officially re-enter society as cleansed, healed people, without any stigmas attached to themselves!
Yet the one who returns en route to Jerusalem has perceived something the others have not. They all call Jesus 'Master', something his disciples did and like us they want Jesus to have pity, mercy on them. The difference is what the Samaritan sees, he recognises something has changed, he also 'sees' who Jesus is and comes to give him thanks and praise and prostrates in worship.
Do the nine receive healing? Of course, the never-ending mercy of the Lord hears their cry and grants them physical healing, but the Samaritan is given more, his faith is deepened and he receives wholeness, which is complete healing. What does this say to us?
Its very simple, firstly to see that God works through ordinary life, is present where we are and answers our payers and cries for help. We have to reach out to the marginalised but, like the Samaritan, we must let the merciful love of Christ touch the inner marginalised parts of ourselves too!
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern rite Catholic Chaplain for the Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Oxford