2 Kgs 5: 14-17; 2Tim 2: 8-13; Lk 17: 11-19
Sickness is a condition of ill health which hinders the proper functioning of part or the whole of a person or organism. Leprosy is a kind of bacteria sickness or disease that attacks the nerves and disfigures the toes and fingers. Everybody wants a decent living and good health. I wonder whether there is anybody who desires to be sick or to have a leprous disease. But sometimes, we can forget that it is God’s blessing that we are healthy. Sometimes, we do not thank God for our good health because we presume that it is always there. However, we remember to ask God for healing when we become sick. Many of us do not appreciate the value of good health until they are sick. For example: One begins to appreciate good sight when one has eye problems and has to change lenses when reading, driving or walking. Some of us appreciate strong teeth when we have tooth problem, and probably have to chew with one side of the teeth. Many of us understand the value of good health when the doctor asks them not to take sugar or soda or orange or when they are placed on special diet. Some of us who had been sick in the past months would remember how they longed for healing. It is worst when you have a kind of sickness that is contagious. We all know what the situation could be like and what the feelings could be.
Presently, many of us go to receive flu shot. Why? It is because we do not want sickness. We schedule to see the doctor regularly because we do not want to be sick. Visit the hospitals and see the conditions of a lot of folks, and some of them die not because of the sickness but because of the isolation, abandonment, negligence by their family members and Church members. When the sick people are abandoned and isolated, depression sets in because they would be thinking that they are not of any value again. Let us take a moment and fix ourselves in that situation of sickness where we are isolated and abandoned by our family members and even the Church members……. How does that feel like?
The lepers at the time of Jesus suffered this kind of isolation, abandonment, rejection and negligence. The lepers did not desire or wished to be leprous, instead, they just found themselves with the sickness. For us to really understand the fate of these ten lepers in the Gospel reading, we need to understand their situation in the biblical context of Jesus’ time. At the time of Jesus, sickness such as leprosy, blindness, paralysis, convulsion, demonic possession, withered hand, deafness, dumbness etc. was regarded as God’s punishment for one’s sins or the sins of his parents. In John 9: 2-3, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
This association of sickness with sin was an understanding in vogue in the ancient time and at the time of Christ as a way of giving meaning to the troubles, sicknesses and hardships that besiege humanity since after the Fall of Adam and Eve. It is unfortunate that up until today, some ministers of God still make people believe that their sickness is as a result of their sins. Sickness is not the result of an individual sin and it is not a punishment from God either. However, Pat Kilpatrick contextualized the kind of sin that can lead to a kind of sickness when he said, “Sin does indeed lead to sickness, death, even genocide, none of which are God’s works. These are the works of mankind either inadvertently or directly inspired to do evil and sin. Misuse of physical resources, chemical spills, our own mechanical creations, wars, poverty, and the likes are environments where every manner of sin, sickness, and death flourish. The effects of sin take advantage of the innocent and evil doers alike.”
Leprosy was one of the sicknesses that people dreaded at the time of Jesus. Leprosy was a contagious disease and anybody who was found with leprosy must be expelled from the camp (neighborhood) of the Israelites. That person must cover his/her face while going out of the camp, and must be shouting, “unclean, unclean” so that the people could stay far away in order not to contact the sickness. The Gospel tells us that Jesus encountered them while he was entering the village (Lk 17: 12-13). This tells us that they were not living in the village with others. They have been driven away. They stood at a distance from Jesus and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Despite the fact that they needed mercy from Jesus, the law forbade them to go closer to anybody and that was why they stood far away asking for pity. If you are Jesus, would you have pity on them or would you allow them to remain with the leprosy? If you say yes, ask yourself the last time you visited any of our parishioners who is sick. Some of our parishioners who have shared their lives with us are sick, home bound and some are in the hospital; some of them feel that they are not being remembered again because they are sick, can we make out time this week and visit at least one sick parishioner. Tomorrow may be our own turn and we may feel the same way they are feeling today. Pope Francis visited and washed the feet of prisoners in the youth detention centre in Rome on Holy Thursday. Imagine the warmth of love they could have felt when the Holy Pontiff stooped down and washed their legs with his hands. We must be instruments of hope and courage. We must be present to the sick, the poor, the prisoners and the neglected. Visit and bring the warmth of love to the sick.
Jesus took pity and asked them to go show themselves to the priest. At this time, a leprous man who is cured does not return to the camp unless he has been certified by the priest to be completely cured. After the certification, the person must offer the prescribed sacrifice according to the law as evidence of his healing (cf. Mtt 8: 4; Mk 1: 44; Lk 5: 14). So, the lepers knew that being asked to go show themselves to the priest meant that they were healed. However, it was only one of them, a Samaritan, that came back to thank Jesus when he realized that he had been cured. Therefore Jesus asked, “Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? I can hear the voice of Jesus echoing, why have you not come to give thanks? Some of us may give the following reasons for not thanking Jesus: I will thank him later because I am so busy now. I do not thank him because I merited the blessings I received. I am not thanking him because he has not blessed me the way I want. He did not make me what I am, it is by my luck (cf. 1 Cor 15: 10). None of these justifies the reason why we cannot thank Jesus. We ought to thank him every day because the Bible tells us that in everything we give thanks to God (1 Thess 5: 16-18).
In the first reading, Naaman went back to thank Elisha when he was cured of leprosy. My dear friends in Christ, we are invited today to always pause and thank the Lord for all that we have received. There must be something in your life that you need to be thankful to God. Before you leave your bedroom in the morning, thank Him. In the night before you go to bed, do not forget to thank Him. We pray for the grace to love the sick and be thankful for God’s blessings on us. Doxology.
Rev Faustinus Okeyikam, MSP