Homily of 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
THE OTHER NINE, WHERE ARE THEY?
The gospel pericope today presents a unique narrative with several points of interest. Looking at the first reading and the gospel, what stands out clearly is the healing power of God and the positive response elicited from the one healed. Luke is the only Evangelist who records the healing of the ten lepers by Jesus. The corresponding narratives found in the Synoptics (Matt. 8:2-4 and Mark 1:40-45) where Jesus healed a certain leper share a few common features but are majorly at variance with Luke’s account. Luke’s account of the ten lepers has a lot in common with the first reading of today, which is the narrative of the healing of Naaman in 2Kings 5:14-17. The parallels in the two readings are unmistakable. The two groups in the readings have cases of leprosy; a disease which apart from the anomaly in the physical appearance also has social and religious ramifications. According to Jewish Law, the victims of leprosy were ostracized socially according to Law and were not fit to make sacrifices since the disease was considered a divine punishment. Secondly, in both narratives, there was no instant healing, rather they were given instructions which they obeyed and were healed in the process, thirdly the note of thanksgiving is occasioned in the return of the one to Jesus and Naaman to the prophet Elisha respectively, fourthly the expression of faith by proclamation of God’s glory by the healed. And finally, in the gospel, while Jesus declares salvation for the Samaritan on account of his faith, Naaman aspires to it by declaring to worship Israel’s God all his life. The usual points of interest in leprosy narratives in the Bible include the strong connection between the disease of leprosy and Sin. As leprosy dissociates one from others socially, so does Sin dissociate one from God spiritually. Again, anyone healed of leprosy is sent to the temple where the priest alone has the power to declare him clean and offer the appropriate sacrifices. Jesus affirms the power of the priests to absolve and to declare one clean by sending the ten lepers to the priest even knowing he could heal them at once. As they went, all ten were made clean. However, Luke records that one of them seeing that he had been made clean turned back praising God. In Luke, praising God is always the response to divine healing. Again, there is a great connection between sight and insight. Even though what transpired was physical, the question found begging is, could the other nine not have perceived it? But certainly one did, and he returned back to Jesus praising God. Jesus’s reaction was as though he expected them back to him instead of proceeding to the temple as he instructed. By this reaction the Evangelist showed him at the same time to be the living temple, the Great High Priest and the fulfillment of the law. The unveiling of the identity of the one who came back was strategic. The Evangelist firstly showed his stark disappointment in the others, who presumably could be Jews before asserting that the one who came was a Samaritan. He was not even a child of Abraham but earned not only healing from Jesus, but salvation.
What the other nine lepers did is not far from the way of life of today’s Christians. Everyone remembers to cry to God for help but only a few return to God after they have received favours. Only a few are found praising God or coming back to the feet of Jesus. Thanksgiving should be the normal life disposition of every Christian. Over and above God’s favours, Paul tells us (1 Thes. 5:18) to give thanks in all circumstances as it is God’s will for us. Jesus never stopped giving thanks to the Father. When he had five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000, he offered thanks (Matt. 14:13-21), when Lazarus was still in the tomb he thanked the Father for answering him (John 11:41), when his audience were disoriented he thanked the Father for unveiling secrets of the kingdom to children (Matt.11:25), and while he offered his body and blood as bread and wine, he gave thanks (Luke 22:19). Things must not be all rosy before we give thanks. As the bible did not give reasons why the nine went away so do many Christians for several reasons leave God after His mercies. May we all find our way to the feet of Jesus in thanksgiving. And may we all learn to appreciate those who are of help to us. I pray that these words may yield fruits of eternal life, amen.
-Fr. Precious Ezeh