Sunday, October 13, 2013
The ten lepers:
Gratitude for the gratuitous gift of salvation
Luke 17, 11-19
Lord, while you are still crossing our land, today you have stopped here and have entered in my village, into my house, in my life. You have not been afraid, you have not disdained the profound illness of my sin; rather, you have even loved me more. Oh Master, I stop at a distance, together with my brothers and sisters who are walking together with me in this world. I raise my voice and I call you; I show you the wound of my soul. I beg you, heal me with the good ointment of your Holy Spirit, give me the true medicine of your Word; there is nothing else which can cure me, but only You, who are Love…
1. I read the Word
11 Now it happened that on the way to Jerusalem he was travelling in the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered one of the villages, ten men suffering from a virulent skin-disease came to meet him. They stood some way off 13 and called to him, 'Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.' 14 When he saw them he said, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.' Now as they were going away they were cleansed. 15 Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice 16 and threw himself prostrate at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. 17 This led Jesus to say, 'Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? 18 It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.' 19 And he said to the man, 'Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.'
b) The context
This passage places us within the third stage of the road which Jesus is following toward Jerusalem; by now the goal is close at hand and the Master calls his disciples even with greater intensity, that is, us, to follow him to the holy city, in the mystery of salvation, of love. The passage is fulfilled only through faith, nourished by an intense, unceasing, insistent, trusting prayer; we see this when we go over the chapters which precede and follow this account (17, 6; 17, 19; 18, 7-8; 42). These words invite us to identify ourselves with the lepers, who become children (cf. Lk 18, 15-17) and with the rich man who is converted and accepts salvation in his home (Lk 18, 18 ff); if we truly accept them and guard them in such a way as to put them into practice, we will finally be able also to arrive to Jericho (19, 1) and from there to begin to go up with Jesus (19, 28), up to the joyful embrace with the Father.
c) The structure:
v. 11: Jesus is travelling and crossed Samaria and Galilee; little by little, he is getting close to Jerusalem, there is nothing which He does not visit, does not touch with his look of love and of mercy.
vv. 12 – 14a: Jesus enters one of the villages, which does not have a name, because it is the place, it is the life of all and here he encounters the ten lepers, sick men, already eaten up by death, excluded and at a distance, marginalized and despised. Immediately He accepts their prayer, which is a cry coming from the heart and invites them to enter into Jerusalem and no longer to be at a distance, but to join the Heart of the Holy City, the temple, the priests. He invites them to go back to the Father’s house.
v. 14b: The lepers had just begun the holy trip to Jerusalem, and they were healed, they become new men.
vv. 15-16: But only one of them turned back to thank Jesus: it seems that we can almost see him running and jumping with joy. He praises the Lord in a loud voice, and throws himself prostrate in adoration and make Eucharist.
vv. 17-19: Jesus sees that of ten, only one turns back, a Samaritan, one who does not belong to the chosen People: salvation, in fact, is for all, also for those who are far away, the strangers. No one is excluded from the love of the Father, who saves thanks to faith.
2. Meditate on the Word
a) I enter into silence:
This invitation is already clear to my heart: The Love of the Father is waiting for me, like that only Samaritan who turned back, full of joy and of gratitude. The Eucharist of my healing is ready; the room in the upper room is already adorned, the table is set, the calf has been killed, the wine has been poured… my place is already prepared. I reread attentively the passage, slowly, stopping on the words, on the verbs; I look at the movement of the lepers, I repeat them, make them my own, I also move, toward the encounter with the Lord Jesus. And I allow myself to be guided by Him, I listen to His voice, to His command. I also go toward Jerusalem, toward the temple, which is my heart and I in making this holy trip I think over all the love that the Father has had for me. I allow myself to be wrapped up by his embrace, I feel the healing of my soul… And because of this, full of joy, I rise, turn back, run toward the source of true happiness which is the Lord. I prepare myself to thank Him, to sing to Him the new canticle of my love for Him. What will I give to the Lord for all He has given me?…
b) I consider more deeply some terms:
During the travelling: Using his beautiful Greek, Luke tells us that Jesus is continuing his way toward Jerusalem and uses a very beautiful and intense verb, even if very common and very much used. In this pericope or passage alone, it appears three times:
v. 11: in the travelling
v. 14: go
v. 19. going
It is a verb of very strong movement, which fully expresses all the dynamic proper of the travelling; it can be translated with all these different nuances or tones: I go, I go to, I leave, I go from one part to the other, I go through, I follow. And even more, within it has the meaning of crossing over, of wading, of going beyond, overcoming the obstacles. And Jesus, the great traveller, the tireless pilgrim: He was the first one to leave His dwelling in the bosom of the Father, and descended down to us, fulfilling the eternal exodus of our salvation and liberation. He knows every path, every route of human experience; no part of the road remains hidden or impassable for Him. This is why He can invite us also to walk, to move ourselves, to cross, to place ourselves in a continuous situation of exodus. So that finally, we can also come back, together to Him, and in this way go to the Father.
Entering one of the villages: Jesus passes by, crosses, walks through, moves and reaches us; some times, then, He decides to enter, to stop for a longer time. As it happens in the account. Luke stops on some details and writes that Jesus entered a village. To enter, in the Biblical sense, is to penetrate, it is the entrance into the depth, which implies sharing and participation. Once more, we find ourselves before a very common and very much used verb; in the Gospel of Luke alone it appears very many times and indicates clearly the intention of Jesus to get close to us, to become a friend and to show his love. He does not despise or spurn any entrance, any communion. He enters the house of Simon the leper (4, 38), goes into the house of the Pharisee (7, 36 and 11, 37), then in the house of the president of the Synagogue (8, 51) and of Zacchaeus the Publican (19,7). He continually enters into the history of man and participates, eats together, suffers, weeps and rejoices, sharing everything. As He himself says, it is sufficient to open the door to let Him in (Ap 3, 20), for him to remain (Lk 24, 29)
Ten Lepers: I ask myself what this human condition really means, this sickness which is called leprosy. I begin with the text itself of Scripture which describes the statute of the leper in Israel. It says: “Anyone with a contagious skin disease will wear torn clothing and disordered hair; and will cover the upper lip and shout: ‘Unclean, unclean! As long as the disease lasts, such a person will be unclean and, being unclean, will live alone and live outside the camp”. (Lev 13, 45-46). Therefore, I understand that the leper is a person struck, wounded, beaten: something has struck him with violence, with force and has left in him a sign of pain, a wound. He is a person in mourning, in great pain, as it is shown by his torn clothing and disordered hair; he is one who has to cover his mouth, because he has no right to speak, neither almost to breathe in the midst of others: he is like a dead person. He is one who cannot worship God, he cannot enter into the Temple, nor touch the holy things. He is a person profoundly wounded, a marginalized person, excluded, one left aside, in solitude. Because of all this, the ten lepers who go to meet Jesus, stop at a distance and speak to him from far, shouting out their pain, their despair.
Jesus, the Master: This exclamation, this prayer of the lepers is beautiful. Above all, they call the Lord by name, as it is done with friends. It seems that they have known one another for some time, that they know about one another, that they have met before at the level of the heart. These lepers have already been admitted into the banquet of Jesus’ intimacy, to the wedding feast of salvation. After them, only the blind man of Jericho (Lk 18, 38) and the thief on the Cross (Lk 23, 42) will repeat this invocation with the same familiarity, the same love: Jesus! Only the one who recognizes himself to be sick, in need, poor, evil-doer, becomes favourite of God. Then they call Him ‘Master’, using a term which means more properly ‘the one who is on high’ and which Peter also used, when on the boat, he was called by Jesus to follow Him (Lk 5, 8) and he recognizes himself a sinner. And here we find ourselves in the very heart of truth, here the mystery of leprosy is revealed, as a sickness of the soul: that is sin, it is to live far away from God, the lack of friendship, of communion with Him. This dries up our soul and makes it die little by little.
He turned back: It is not a simple physical movement, a change of direction and of walking, but rather a true interior, profound upheaval or revolution. ‘To turn back’ is the verb of conversion, of going back to God. It is to change something into something else (Ap 11, 6); it is returning home (Lk 1, 56; 2, 43), after having gone away, like the prodigal son did, lost in sin. This is what this leper does: he changes his sickness into a blessing, his being a stranger, a foreigner, being far away from God into friendship, into a relationship of intimacy, like between father and son. He changes, because he allows himself to be changed by Jesus himself, he allows himself to be reached by His love.
To thank him: This verb is beautiful, in all languages, but in a particular way in Greek, because it bears within the meaning ofEucharist. Yes, it is exactly like that: the leper ‘does Eucharist’! He sits at the table of mercy, where Jesus allowed himself to be hurt, wounded even before him; where he became the cursed one, the excluded, the one thrown out of the camp in order to gather us all together in His Heart. He receives the bread and the wine of love gratuitously, of salvation, of forgiveness, of the new life; finally he can once again enter into the temple and participate in the Liturgy, in the worship. Finally, he can pray, getting close to God with full trust. He no longer wears torn clothing, but the feast dress, the wedding dress; now he wears sandals on his feet, is shod and wears a ring on his finger. He no longer has to cover his mouth, but from now he can sing and praise God, he can smile and speak openly; he can get close to Jesus and kiss Him, like a friend does with a friend. The feast is complete, the joy overflowing.
Rise and go!: This is Jesus’ invitation, the invitation of the Lord. Rise, that is, ‘Resurrect’ come back to life! It is the new life after death, the day after the night. For Saul also, on the road to Damascus, this same invitation was heard, this commandment of love: “Rise!” (Acts 22, 10, 16) and he was born anew, from the womb of the Holy Spirit; he recovered his sight and could see once again, he began to eat, he received Baptism and a new name. His leprosy had disappeared.
Your faith has saved you: I reread this expression of Jesus, I listen to it in his dialogues with the persons whom He meets, with the sinner woman, the woman with the haemorrhage, the blind man…
• Jesus, turning around, saw her and said, “Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you”. And from that moment the woman was saved (Mt 9, 22; Lk 8, 48).
• And Jesus said: “Go, your faith has saved you” and immediately he regained his sight and he followed him along the road (Mk 10, 52).
• He said to the woman: “Your faith has saved you, go in peace” (Lk 7, 50).
• And Jesus said to him: “Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you” (Lk 18, 42).
Now I pray together with the apostles and I also say: “Lord, increase my faith!” (cf. Lk 17, 6); “Help my lack of faith!” (Mk 9, 24).
3. I pray with the Word
a) Confronting with life:
Lord, I have gathered the good honey of your Words from the divine Scripture; You have given me light, you have nourished my heart, you have shown me the truth. I know that in the number of those lepers, of those sick persons, I am also there and I know that you are waiting for me, so that I come back, full of joy, to make the Eucharist with You, in your merciful love. I also ask you for the light of your Spirit in order to be able to see well, to know and to allow You to change me. Behold, Lord, I open my heart, my life, before you… look at me, question me, heal me.
b) Some questions:
• If at this moment, Jesus, passing by and crossing my life, would stop to enter into my village, would I be ready to welcome, to accept Him? Would I be happy to let him come in? Would I invite Him, would I insist, like the disciples of Emmaus? Behold, He is at the door and knocks… Will I get up to open the door to my Beloved? (Cant 5, 5)
• How is my relationship with Him? Am I able to call Him by name, as the lepers have done, even if from a distance, but with all the strength of their faith? Does the invocation of the name of Jesus always springs from my heart, from my lips? When I am in danger, in suffering, weeping, which exclamation comes spontaneously from me? Could I not try and be more attentive to this aspect, which seems to be secondary, worth little, but which, instead reveals a very strong and profound reality? Why do I not begin to repeat the name of Jesus in my heart, even if only with my lips, like a prayer, or like a hymn? This could be my companion while I go to work, while I walk, while I do this or that…
• Do I have the courage to sincerely present my evil, my sin, which is the true sickness? Jesus invites the ten lepers to go to the priests, according to the Hebrew law, but also for me, today, it is important, indispensable to live this passage: to tell myself, tobring out to light what hurts me inside and prevents me from being serene, happy, in peace. If it is not before the priest, at least it is necessary that I place myself before the Lord, face to face with Him, without any masks, without hiding anything and to tell him all the truth about me. It is only in this way that it will be possible to really heal.
• The salvation of the Lord is for all; He loves all with an immense love. But few are those who open themselves to accept His presence in their life. One on ten. On which side do I place myself? Am I able to recognize all the good that the Lord has done to me in my life? Or do I continue only to complain, to always expect something more, to reproach and accuse, to protest, to threaten? Do I really know how to say thank you, sincerely, with gratitude, convinced that I have received everything, that the Lord always gives me a surplus? It would really be very nice to take some time to thank the Lord for all the benefits which He has showered in my life, since I can remember up until now. I think that I would never be able to finish, because something else would always come to my mind, Then, the only thing I can do is like the leper, the only one among the ten: to turn back, to run up to the Lord and to throw myself at His feet, and praise Him in a loud voice. I can do it by singing a hymn, or only repeating my thanksgiving, or perhaps weeping for joy.
• And now I listen to Jesus’ invitation: “Rise and set out on the road” After this experience I cannot remain without moving, closing myself in my own world, in my peaceful beatitude and forget everything. I must rise, go out, and set out on the road. If the Lord has blessed me, it is in order that I may take His love to my brothers. The joy of the encounter with Him and of having been healed in my soul will never be true, if it is not shared and placed at the service of others. An instant is sufficient, to bring to my mind so many friends, so many persons, more or less close to me, who need some joy and hope. Then, why do I not start moving immediately? I can make a phone call, send a message, write if even just a brief note, or perhaps I can go and visit someone, keep him company and find the courage to announce the beauty and the joy of having Jesus as my friend, as doctor, as Saviour. Now is the moment to do it.
c) I pray with a Psalm
I called out to you, Lord, and you healed me.
How blessed are those to whom
Yahweh imputes no guilt,
whose spirit harbours no deceit.
I said not a word,
but my bones wasted away from groaning all the day;
I made my sin known to you,
did not conceal my guilt. I said,
'I shall confess my offence to Yahweh.'
And you, for your part,
took away my guilt, forgave my sin.
That is why each of your faithful ones
prays to you in time of distress.
Even if great floods overflow,
they will never reach your faithful.
You are a refuge for me,
you guard me in trouble,
with songs of deliverance you surround me.
I shall instruct you and teach you the way to go;
I shall not take my eyes off you.
Rejoice in Yahweh, exult all you upright,
shout for joy, you honest of heart.
4. I contemplate and I praise
Lord, I have come to you from solitude and isolation, with all the weight and the shame of my sin, of my sickness. I have cried out, I have confessed, I have asked you for mercy, you, who are Love. You have heard me even before I could finish my poor prayer; even from far you have known me and listened to me. You know everything about me, but you are not scandalized, you do not despise, you do not draw back. You have told me only not to fear, not to hide myself. And it has been sufficient to trust you, to open the heart and your salvation has already reached me. I have already felt the balm of your presence. I have understood that you have healed me. Then, Lord, I could not do any other thing than to turn back to you, to tell you at least thank you, to weep with joy at your feet. I thought I did not have anyone, not to be able to bear it, not to come out any more and, instead, you have saved me, you have given me another possibility to begin anew.
Lord, thanks to you I am no longer a leper! I have thrown away my torn clothing and I have put on my feast dress. I have broken the isolation of shame, of harshness and I have begun to get out from myself, leaving behind my prison. I have risen, I have resurrected. Today, with you, I begin to live again.