Father Donald Senior, CP

Oct. 13: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A new lease on life

2 Kgs 5:14-17; Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4; 2 Tm 2:8-13; Lk 17:11-19

The Scriptures for this Sunday remind us how taboo leprosy was in the Bible. When reading the symptoms of leprosy described in detail in Leviticus 13, medical experts today suggest the disease was most likely a skin disease, perhaps an intense form of psoriasis, rather than Hanson’s disease or what is considered leprosy today. 

No matter what the actual physical ailment was, it took on a highly symbolic role in the Bible, a meaning that still lingers today. Once people were diagnosed with leprosy they were treated as the “living dead” — forced out of their villages, their homes destroyed, condemned to a life of isolation, having to call out at the approach of any other person, “unclean, unclean.” The person cursed to suffer from leprosy was treated as if already in the realm of the dead.

No wonder that the Gospels portray Jesus’ dramatic encounters with lepers as the most powerful expressions of his healing power. Restoring a leper to health was equivalent to bringing a person back to life.

In today’s readings, we have two dramatic stories of lepers being healed. The first is a marvelous and ironic story from the Second Book of Kings. We meet Naaman, a great commander of the Aramean (present-day Syria) king’s army, who has contracted leprosy. When he learns that the Israelite prophet Elisha has healing power, he decides to enlist this healer to cure his disease. 

The story depicts Naaman as a haughty man who sends many lavish gifts ahead of his arrival to impress the prophet. Naaman expects treatment worthy of his high status upon meeting the prophet. However, the prophet Elisha refuses to come out of his house to greet the great man and, instead, tells him to go and wash in the Jordan river. Naaman is angered at such a reception and rejects such a means of being cured — there are far better rivers in Damascus, he sniffs.

But his servants beg him to give it a try, which he ultimately does and to his amazement he is cured. He returns to Elisha and wants to lavish gifts on him, but the prophet refuses. 

Finally, Naaman realizes that the power of the God of Israel working through the prophet has healed him and he asks the prophet’s forgiveness for his arrogance. “Go in peace,” Elisha tells him as he returns to his homeland.

In today’s Gospel selection, we have a story with enticing parallels to the account in 2 Kings. As Jesus travels through Samaria (the setting, by the way, for the story of Elisha and Naaman), 10 lepers “stand at a distance” and implore Jesus to heal them: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” 

Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests because the regulations in Leviticus state that only the priests can determine if a leper is cured. On the way, they discover they are healed. Life was given back to them through the power of Jesus.

As in the story of Elisha and Naaman, there is more here than a focus on healing. Naaman the Syrian struggled with how to respond properly to God’s gift of life but finally realized his need for gratitude. So, too, in Luke’s account only one leper — a Samaritan, like Naaman, an outsider — realizes the incredible gift of life he has received, and returns, “glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” Jesus’ question hangs in the air: “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?”

The Scriptures this Sunday focus on the experience of being healed, of receiving a new lease on life and of the need to thank God the for gift of life. A lot of things command our attention — struggling to make ends meet, concerns about our children or our own health, absorption in sports or politics, the din of everyday life. But the sheer gift of life — and the Risen Christ’s promise of life without end — should awaken in us a deep sense of gratitude for God’s unconditional love for us and our world.


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