The readings for this Sunday are very rich, with so many spiritual secrets. The keyword to interpret the readings is “leprosy”.
In the Gospel, we see Jesus, who, entering a village, meets ten lepers, who stop at a distance and say aloud: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”. As soon as he sees them, Jesus tells them: “Go and present yourselves to the priests”.
There are some interesting things we need to note. Those ten don’t come near to Jesus but stay away from Jesus and call for help. Jesus does not go to them and touch and heal them. Instead, he asked them to show themselves to the priests. Why is it so?
To understand, we need to know something written in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Leviticus, where almost two chapters are dedicated to talking about skin diseases.
“The leper who has the disease shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.” (Lv 13:45-46)
It sounds almost like the precautions for a covid-19. That means a leper has to isolate himself from others and live outside his town. He has to cover his upper lips as if to say to keep the mask. That is why these ten lepers keep a distance from Jesus. But instead of calling unclean, they call “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”.
As soon as Jesus sees them, he says: “Go and present yourselves to the priests”. He could have healed them, but he doesn’t do anything; instead, he tells them to go to the priests. This is something important. Why did he say so?
One of the primary obligations or duties of priests in the Old Testament wasn’t just to offer sacrifice in the Temple, but they had to act as doctors as well. In the sense that they inspected people’s sores and made judgments about whether the person was clean or unclean. They were restored to the community if they were clean after a small ritual sacrifice.
Dear friends, the leprosy that we are dealing with in these readings is nothing but our sins. If you reread this passage again, we will get great lessons. They stood a long way off because no one in their condition dared come too close. We stand a long way off, too, while we continue to sin. To be restored to health and cured of the leprosy of sin, we also must cry out: “Jesus, master, take pity on us.” That cry, however, must come not from our lips but from our heart, for the cry of the heart is louder, and it pierces the heavens, rising up to the very throne of God.
As leprosy is both contagious and deadly, so is our sin. Just as leprosy spreads very easily among humans and can make us sick and weak and even kill us, so too does sin. Hence, the physical disease of leprosy in the Old Testament is a prefiguration of the spiritual sickness of sin in the New Testament. And just as to be declared pure, it was necessary to go to a priest, so too we go to a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to be declared pure and to be reintegrated into the community and into worship in the Temple which is the Holy Mass and the Eucharistic liturgy.
Sometimes people say: “I don’t want to go to a priest to confess my sin; I do it directly to God. But look at today’s Gospel. Jesus, who is God, could heal them with a word or even with a look, but he sends these ten lepers to the priests. That is, confession is God’s plan, and It should be respected. Ultimately it is God who forgives sins, but forgiveness is given through priests who are merely human and sinful. Even if you look at the first reading, the man of God, Elisha, sends his messenger to tell Naaman to bathe in the Jordan River. When he obeyed, he was healed. Similarly, Priests are indeed God’s messengers. If we have humility similar to that of Naman and the ten lepers, healing is certain.
So dear friends, spiritually speaking, we are all lepers. And to the extent that we have all been saved and healed by Jesus, then we should recognize ourselves in the grateful leper. Each of us is like that Samaritan, who has been sick - spiritually speaking - but has been brought back to life and purified through the waters of Baptism.
Think about Naaman. He went down in the water of the Jordan, seven times—that’s the number of the covenant—and through the water of the Jordan he was cleansed. When we come out of the water of Baptism, our flesh— our souls—are like that of a little child, made clean and new. That is what Jesus says in the Gospel of St John: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). So the disposition of our hearts, if we’re baptized Christians, should be exactly that of the Samaritan who was cleansed and came back to glorify God and give thanks to Jesus. We should not be like the other nine lepers, that is 90 per cent of the people who fail to see the hand of God working in our lives, thinking that the blessings we receive come from our own efforts or ability.
So today’s readings lead us to understand worship as an expression of gratitude. This is particularly true of the central act of Catholic worship, the Eucharistic liturgy, since “eucharist” derives from the Greek word “eucharitein”, which means “thanksgiving”. Therefore, today’s readings invite us to recognize that we who are Gentile “foreigners,” like Naaman or Samaritans who did not belong to God’s covenant, have been healed of our terminal spiritual leprosy by washing ourselves in the humble waters of Baptism. Having been healed, our right response is ardent gratitude expressed through worship.
Therefore, let us realize the truth that our very life and everything in life is a gift from God. So let us be thankful to God who has healed us, who are Gentiles and lepers. With a humble and grateful heart, let us pray that God may bless us to grow daily in God’s love and love for our brothers and be free from every sin, and we may always enjoy great communion with Him and our brothers.