October 13, 2019: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
Heal Me, Lord. In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus cure ten lepers who cry out to him in their infirmity. Such demonstrative acts of mercy are the reason why one of the titles for Jesus that emerged in the early Church is “The Divine Physician.” In particular, this powerful story of restoration highlights three aspects of his healing ministry.
First, Jesus’ healing mercy extends to all, if we ask. The context for this miracle comes as Jesus is in the midst of his journey to Jerusalem. He has set his face toward the Holy City in order to accomplish his work of salvation. No doubt his thoughts were focused and directed to this mission. As he passed through the non-Jewish town of Samaria, ten foreigners cry out for Jesus to have pity on them. There’s really no reason that compels Christ to stop and interact with them. They did not follow the covenant. They were not orthodox believers. They have no claim on Jesus. And yet, when they cried out for help, Jesus responds with unconditional mercy. We, too, sometimes think that Jesus will only respond to us if we are “good” or if we deserve it because we are virtuous. But the only requirement to receive God’s mercy is to ask. We have to ask. We have to acknowledge that we are in need our healing. Like the ten lepers, if we cry out for mercy, the Lord will be generous in his response.
Second, there is a difference between being grateful and giving thanks. In this story, all ten of the lepers are cured of their illness. Presumably, all of them were overjoyed to be freed from this death sentence. At the time, leprosy did not simply affect the body, but, since those afflicted had to live in quarantine from others, it also effectively disconnected them from the community. There is no doubt that each one of the ten was extremely grateful to Jesus for having been loosed from the chains of this deadly virus. Yet only one returns to Jesus to give thanks. This calls to mind the adage: “there is nothing more useless than gratitude that is not spoken.” Jesus himself marvels at this lack. Notice that Jesus does not say that the nine others were not grateful, but rather “no one other than this foreigner came back to give thanks.” So for us. Having an attitude of gratitude is essential part of a healthy spiritual life, but it is not sufficient. We need to both be grateful and also give thanks. In fact, this is at the heart of coming to celebrate the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”) each Sunday. When we think we can come to Church once in a while or even three Sundays out of four, we are like the grateful nine, who are thankful and yet fail to give thanks.
Third, only those who give thanks are healed. In order to understand the full scope and power of Jesus as the Divine Physician, we must make a distinction between cure and healing. All ten of the lepers are cured of their leprosy. Yet only one is actually healed. Cure is simply the restoration of the body. Healing is the restoration of the whole person. Let’s face it: at some point our bodies will fail. Death is the reality for all of us. Jesus’ mission is not to save us from bodily death, but from spiritual death. Though all the ten were cured, only one heard Jesus say: “your faith has saved you.” The Latin word for saved, salus, is connected to the word for healing. In the Gospel, to be “healed” is to be “saved.” As we face the infirmities of our life, whether in body or spirit, we cry out to Jesus not simply for cure, but for healing. Like the one who returned to Jesus to give thanks, let our prayer this week be: Heal me, Lord.
~ Fr. Michael