28th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 9 October 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: II Kings 5: 14-17; Responsorial: Psalm 98; II: II Timothy 2: 8-13; Gospel: Luke 17: 11-19
As we journey into the final weeks of Ordinary Time our Bible readings for Mass are reminding us of our shared call and works of faith to live the Gospel message. This is especially seen in the great needs and struggles of our world. We are, as followers of Christ, called to live our faith and love proclaiming God’s Kingdom. Today we are challenged by an ancient affliction that will either cause us to fear and withdraw from the works of God or will free us to grow in the holy, joyful love of God that brings hope and healing. This challenge is shared as we heed the Leper’s Lesson.
In the Old Testament story of the Syrian, Naaman tells of a man who contracts leprosy. He falls from a place of leadership, respect, strength, and control to being an outcast, diseased, struggling for hope, and life. From our Gospel reading, we hear the account of the ten lepers who sought healing from Jesus. The Messiah indeed intervenes but only one man, a Samaritan returns to glorify God and give thanks.
We may be tempted to think the horror of leprosy is a thing of Biblical or ancient times. We are very fortunate to live in a place and time where this disease is not locally known. But the realities of leprosy (or Hansen’s Disease) still very much exist. It is found mostly in countries such as China, India, Brazil parts of Africa, and other places. In the past 20 years, there have been 16 million cases, while in 2020 there were over 127,000 new cases with almost 9,000 of those being children 15 and younger. Fortunately, there is now medical treatment that can cure or stop the effects of this horrific affliction. However in places of war or great poverty the care needed to heal (sound hygiene, water, food, medicine is often restricted.
Why is this important for us? Leprosy is virtually unknown in our locale, in our country. First, we must remember we are part of a community far bigger than what we know, day-to-day. The people suffering from leprosy in India, southern Sudan, or Brazil are our neighbors. Their needs are our concern, especially when we realize the blessings and help God has given us… to be shared. We also must realize that there are, in our midst, in our community people who may not suffer physical leprosy but still experience the afflictions of rejection, loneliness, and despair found with lepers. As members of Christ’s Body, His Kingdom we are called to be a people, a place of welcome, hope, and healing. And it is as we heed the Leper’s Lesson we are able to bring God’s care and grace.
As it has been since ancient times so it is today. We are tempted to exclude and isolate those we see as unhealthy, weak, disordered, and unacceptable. Perhaps the fear of contagion may motivate our attitude. We have experienced this reality as we journeyed through the Covid pandemic. There may be times when such exclusion is best. For a season. But isolation, exclusion, and fear should never be our normal course of action, of caring.
In the church today there are numerous places and currents where fear and exclusion are powerful forces. Those of differing races, ethnicities, languages, and liturgy are often suspect. People who may experience issues of sexuality outside the prescribed frame of reference are often isolated unless or until they can show accepted order from their presumed disorders. People who may not meet the accepted norms of income, housing, or mental abilities are, sadly often seen as threats or problems to be met with caution and, perhaps some program that maintains a comfortable distance for those of assumed normal economic, mental or social health. But the lesson from the leper would teach us, bring us to share, listen, learn, ways of caring, and ways of growing, together in the hope and love of God.
We would do well to prayerfully study the lives of those who choose to reject their fears and simply love and care for, as God enables, the lepers of life. Father Damien who followed Christ to care for the lepers of Molokai, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta who included lepers in her compassion and care, St. Francis of Assisi, and saints of today all give us powerful, real examples that when fear is denounced and love is chosen blessing and joy are shared. The suffering and struggles are very real and must not be denied. But the Presence of God, bringing hope and love is ever greater.
The Lesson of the Leper is simple but very real and greatly needed in our world. Leprosy and other isolating, crippling, destructive, and fear-inducing realities are very real parts of life in this world. We, as members of Christ’s Body, the Church are called to decide whether we will allow fear and ignorance to infuse our communities of faith. Or will we choose to follow the example of Christ and His saints and learn to listen, learn, care and grow, together in the hope and love of God that can bring healing and freedom? From our choices, with God, we can then grow from what may be a single life changing encounter with a leperous soul to become communities sharing the healing light and holy life that is Christ.