The grateful Samaritan leper
One in ten – is a statistic we hear from time to time. It is a bad stat today that only one in 10 people cured by Jesus took the trouble to thank Him. Does it point to my lack of gratitude? Am I grateful only 1 time in 10? For all that I have received, how often have I thanked Him? Am I more usually asking for more and more of God, more conscious of what I lack without acknowledging what I have or what I have been given? Have I taken the time to reflect on answered prayer and indeed on unanswered prayer when maybe what I was I looking for and didn’t get was in not in my best interest to receive in the first place? I am not much of a Country and Western music fan but one of the more intriguing titles of a song that I heard is ‘I thank God for unanswered prayer!
The story is obviously about gratitude – for what? A cure from leprosy, the great social stigma of the time, a contagious disease that placed one on the margins of society. We note in the Gospel that it is on the edge of town, not the centre, as the lepers were literally marginalised. There was a false notion among the Jews that leprosy was punishment for personal sin committed by oneself or a member of the family and that it was somehow deserving. At the same time there was sometimes the possibility of a cure, of a remedy, hence there was a stipulation in the Jewish Law that a healed person would go to the priest with a sin offering of a lamb or a kid, and the blood sprinkled on them as an external ritual of their cleansing. Then they would be re-admitted to Jewish society and worship. Life would be normal again, they were truly free.
The Samaritan was part of the crowd, but not lost in it.
He was able to come alone to Jesus. I think that this is the crucial part of the story – not only was he grateful and praising God at the top of his voice for all to hear, he had the courage of his convictions to stand apart from the crowd and to go it alone, no matter what the others may have thought of him.
The Gospel says something more. The healed leper stood apart and had a personal encounter and relationship with the Lord. I think that each of us can learn from this. At Sunday Mass we are part of the congregation reciting the prayers and learned responses of the Mass, but at Communion time we have the opportunity to make the decision to come before the Lord individually in person in Holy Communion. This is the highlight of our day, and our week, to have this intimate meeting, conversation, and encounter with Christ the healer in Holy Communion. Do we adequately reflect on what is happening and what I can do to open myself to in my reception of Jesus in the Host? Do I receive out of habit and routine, or is the most important thing to happen to me today – when I can be alone in my thoughts and prayers, in praise, adoration and thanksgiving at this marvelous encounter and meeting with my Lord in intimacy, telling Him exactly what is going on in my life, unknown perhaps to others? When I can tell my Lord what my worries, concerns, anxieties are, when I can tell Him face to face that I love Him and that I am sorry for the times I have let Him down. There is no part of my life that doesn’t concern Him. When I can open myself to hear His words of comfort, healing, strengthening me and re-assuring me that He is always there for me, that He will never abandon me, and that He is with me always. Then I can ask Him what it is He wants of me and how I can best please Him in the carrying out of my duties ,and where I may have blind spots in my life in failings and faults I have not admitted to myself, and where I may be neglectful regarding others’ welfare. Week by week, day by day, the Lord can change me and open my heart to love Him and my neighbor more. I know people who go to Mass every day, and who tell me that a day without Mass is not the same for them. Somehow the day is incomplete without this life-giving encounter. In Communion Jesus nourishes me and gives me strength to continue and to persevere and to face whatever lies ahead. These are the assurances the Lord gives me if I am prepared to make the Mass and the reception of Holy Communion not simply as habit, or something to tick off the checklist of my day or week, but the most important thing that can happen to me. The early Christians persecuted for their faith, found the Eucharist the source of their strength.'Only for the Sunday we would have been lost'.
The Lord said to the healed man – ‘go your way’, at Mass we hear ‘Go the Mass in ended’ – we must return to our business, our lives, our journeys, but the Lord is at our side. The healed man’s life was changed utterly because he made the effort to draw closer in a relationship of love to Jesus – let us draw closer to him in loving prayer and communion; let us tell Him that we love Him – to one of the saints He said – ‘tell me that you love me, that is what I most long to hear.'