28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - The Other Nine

We have read the story of the Ten Lepers so often throughout our lives that we sometimes take the point of the story for granted. We often focus on the thankfulness of the one leper, in contrast to the nine others who did not return to "give glory to God." It is much easier to condemn the nine rather than understand them. Jesus knew about the ten - where they were and where they went; why they were and who they were - and he healed all of them just the same.

Leprosy was a feared and horrible disease. It still is. In Jesus' time lepers were not allowed in the cities, and were not allowed to approach others. That is why these ten lepers kept their distance and called out to Jesus. But they didn't shout out a warning to the approaching crowd - they cried out for mercy. These men were, all in all, a good bunch. They were obeying the laws: they stayed out of the city and did not approach Jesus or his followers. But they knew who Jesus was and believed in His ability to heal. And they obeyed without question when he told them to go to the priests, even before they were healed.

This story rests at the very center of Jesus' teaching about discipleship, and the meaning of faith. Jesus has told his disciples and the crowd: "Be on your guard! Forgive one another; heal one another; if you only had faith the size of a mustard seed... " And later on He will tell them that the Kingdom of God is at hand - that it is present in their midst.

In the middle of this, between forgiveness and the coming of the kingdom, we find this healing story. And in the middle of this story, we find one leper who returns to Jesus, praising God and giving thanks.

Ten lepers called out to Jesus that day. Ten obediently kept their distance, living their own identity. Ten were invited to return to life. Ten were made clean and were healed. Ten were cured - not just physically - but now becoming socially acceptable again. Ten were restored to the community amid the challenging, even troubling teaching of Jesus - teaching about the life of faith, the call to discipleship and living in response to that call.

But only one - when he saw that he was healed - returned, threw himself at the feet of Jesus and said thanks. Only one turned back. And he was a Samaritan. He was an outcast even among the lepers - a leper of the lepers. But he was the only one who turned back and gave thanks. He knew Jesus by name, but they all knew. He begged for mercy, but they all begged. He was healed, but they were all healed. And Jesus asks: "where are the other nine?"

In each of our lives there are moments when we are confronted by the difficult challenges of trying to live our faith, and of trying to understand what it means to witness to the kingdom of God in our lives; when everything around us tells us to keep moving along with the other nine. These are moments when we can be tempted to do just enough to satisfy what's expected of us. These are moments when we are too preoccupied celebrating our own lives to think of anything - or anyone - else.

But these are also the moments when we, too, have the opportunity to stop and turn back, to find ourselves at the feet of the Lord, in thanksgiving and praise, offering ourselves as disciples and witnesses.

The Lord has healed us all and we, too, have received an invitation - an invitation, not to go show ourselves to the priests, to but to live life in its fullness. So, in all that we do, individually and communally, we should be life-givers, life-enhancers.

All of us who have been touched, cleansed and healed are invited by the Lord to act on our own faith, turn back, change direction a little, and be as approachable and welcoming to the outsider as He was.

Graphic: The Ten Lepers - by James C. Christensen
Copyright © 2003 The Greenwich Workshop
http://www.jameschristensen.us/