In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen
Today is the Twenty-ninth Sunday after Pentecost. The main reading today is about the Healing of the Ten Lepers (Lk. 17:12-19).
In this miracle, like most of the miracles in the Gospel, is presented to us an inner meaning and outer meaning.
The inner meaning is about what true faith really is, and also about the unfaithfulness and unthankfulness of the Jews.
The outer meaning seems to be clear, that we should in all things give thanks to God, particularly when we are given great gifts. Only one man gave thanks to God for this great boon that he was given—this healing from his leprosy.
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us (Lk. 17:14).
Leprosy was an affliction that represented uncleanness. A leper was disenfranchised from his community. He could not enter into the temple, and he could not even come near a Jew, much less touch one. Someone who came close to him or touched him would be considered unclean, until he fulfilled various ceremonies prescribed in the law. A leper was truly an exile among his own people.
These lepers were “afar off”. They were afar off because they had to stay away from the Jews, because of their uncleanness. They also were afar off because we cannot approach God, being full of sins. Leprosy is a metaphor for our sins. A man who has sins is certainly afar off from God. When they lifted up their voices to ask God to have mercy, we are reminded of the two blind men. In another place, it says: Two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us (Mt. 9:27). They were insistent, just as these lepers must have been insistent. Being afar off, they must have had to shout loudly and often, since with the bustle and press of the crowd, it would have been hard to make their voices known. They must have insistently had to cry out for mercy to God, far away from Him, in their sins.
At least they knew they were far away. So many of us don’t understand how far away we truly are, and how much we need to call out to God, and ask forgiveness for our sins, like the publican,1 or like the blind men,2 or like these lepers.
And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed (Lk. 17:15).
He is following Jewish law to the letter here. He did not always do it this way. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them (Mt. 8:2-4). There was a whole ritual and ceremony that was necessary when a leper was cleansed. It is quite beautiful, and symbolic of Christ’s economy, and cleansing of us. I cannot really go into it, because I don’t know it very well, but St. Cyril of Jerusalem talks about it extensively.
Our Lord was following Jewish law so that He would not be judged before His time, but we can see from this other example that our Lord will touch the unclean and make it clean. He also shows from what we are reading today, that obedience can make a man clean. He just said to the lepers, before they were cleansed, Go to the priests. Now, why in the world would a man go to a priest, when he is still full of leprosy? This is akin to the man, who was born blind, even without eyes, going to the pool of Siloam, and washing, still being blind. Because of obedience, these people were cleansed. Even the ones who were not thankful to the Lord were cleansed because, after all, they were obedient too; but they lost their reward, as we will see in a minute.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan (Lk. 17:16).
This man uses his head, or should I say, he uses his heart. He was ordered to go to the priest, and then he was cleansed on the way. He knew that the Great High Priest had healed him, so he obeyed the command. He went to Great High Priest and worshipped Him. This man understood. He had eyes to see, and ears to hear. He saw what a great miracle had been worked, and he knew that only God would be able to do such a thing. This man was a thoughtful man. He considered things. These other nine, even upon seeing the example of one of their kindred, were not thoughtful. It did not occur to them why they were cleansed, and Who they had just encountered. They had just seen the God-man, and been healed by His mercy, and yet they did not really understand.
The law is about love and thankfulness. The law is about becoming like God. The Jewish law is very intricate, and you would be amazed how many things in the Jewish law we still follow to this day, but its essence is the Christian law. That essence is to become like God, to be enlightened; and, being enlightened by Him, to become like Him—not in His essence, but in His actions. To be full of love for every man; to be fire. This leper understood that he had just encountered fire, and he went back to it. These nine men, who had also been healed, did not understand, because they were not thinking with their hearts. They were not being enlightened.
The other Gospel says something that relates very much to what we are considering here. It says:
Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have (Lk. 8:18).
Be careful how you hear. Everyone is hearing the same thing, but we are hearing it differently, because we are hearing it through the prism of our consciousness, our passions, our sins, and our agendas. To the pure, all things are pure (Tit. 1:15). The pure in heart will see God.3 The impure will see Him, and yet not see Him, and hear Him, and yet not understand him. They may be healed by Him, and yet they will not really be completely healed by Him. The real healing of the leper is what we are about to see. His healing from leprosy was only the beginning, just like the man who was born blind.4 When he went to the pool of Siloam and came back, having been given eyes to see, he was enlightened to see the God-man, and to know Him, and REALLY be healed at that point.5 We can see this over and over again. Christ heals the man inside and out. We have seen only a partial healing so far today. The leper still has a bit more medication to be given, and his healing will be completed.
And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger (Lk. 17:17-18).
A Samaritan was a heretic, plain and simple. They worshipped false gods, and also the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, as they falsely understood Him, and rejected all of the sacred scripture save the Pentateuch—the first five books. They were shunned by the Jews, as they should have been, because they were an unclean people, and yet, even among those people, there were ones with great souls, that God was able to touch, just like St. Photini, who was a Samaritan—the woman at the well.6 The nine Jews who did not return represent, in microcosm, the Jewish nation. Someone in that audience certainly understood what He was really referring to. This healing, as were many other actions of our Savior, was a harbinger of things to come—bringing the nations into communion with God. As for those who were first given the promise—so many of them would reject it, just like these nine lepers who rejected God by not giving Him thanks.
And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole (Lk. 17:19).
We have heard this so many times in the scriptures: Thy faith hath made thee whole. Now, what was his faith? He was told to go to the priests. We don’t know if he had a sure hope of being healed at that time. He might have been confused. We don’t know if his faith was in that action or not; but when he was healed he came to the God-man and worshipped him There was his faith! Faith is how we live. Faith is how we act. Faith is when God enlightens us, and He fills us, and there is so much within us that we cannot but act in ways that are pleasing to Him. A spring overflowing from our hearts!—that’s what faith is. Faith is not only believing something. It is being so filled with God, that we act like God, in mercy in love, in compassion, and that we recognize God, and we worship Him as Who He is. That is faith, and this leper, this former leper, had faith, because He saw the God-man and was touched by Him—and he reacted to Him!
What can we learn from this short, little story, just a few lines? We can certainly see that one should give thanks to God, but more fundamentally, the inner meaning is that this leper had eyes to see, and ears to hear, and saw the God-man, and ACTED upon what he learned and what he knew. Then, the God-man, truly healed him, and made him filled with knowledge, so that he would grow to fruition.
It is the same principle for us. The Church gives us so many wonderful gifts, so many incalculable riches, yet many times we do not value them very much at all. We don’t understand what a great thing we have been given. On an intellectual level perhaps we understand, but we don’t act with fervent faith because of them. The gifts we have been given are so tremendous that they should spur us on, and make us live in Christ.
Brothers and sisters, living in Christ is not only knowing those things that God has revealed to us in the books and the traditions of our church. Those are all God-inspired, and God-breathed; but we must make these things to be the definition of who we are, not just what we know. We should have such a mastery of God’s mercy in our life that we would react in ways that are good and holy naturally. It was natural for this leper.
For us, just as for this leper, this comes though labor, through effort. The leper was sick for a long time; he had to endure much for a long time. So do we, unfortunately—mostly because of our sins. So, let us endure, let us proceed, and let us try to capture God’s mercy in our hearts, and let it warm us and enlighten us.