TWENTY NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Healing of the ten lepers -
(Luke 17: 12-19)
" Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus Master, have mercy on us!” "
While preaching the Gospel, Christ continued to travel through cities and villages. When entering a village, a procession of ten lepers met Christ. According to the Old Testament Law, lepers had to live outside of populated places to prevent the spread of infection. When the lepers went into a village or city, they had to yell from afar "unclean" that no one would come into contact with them (III Exodus 13:45). Any kind of contact between the lepers and healthy people was forbidden. In this situation, respecting the law, they do not come to Christ, but from a distance shout and ask Him for help.
“So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
From a different perspective, one who touched a leper would be declared unclean, which required a special process of cleansing. In the Gospel according to Matthew 8: 2-4, Christ is healing the leper by a touch. In this case, Christ honors the Law, because he wants to teach us something more important. Thus, he does not cure them immediately, but tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. If one would have been healed of this terrible disease, the Old Testament Law required that this person go to the priest. After careful examination, the priest announced to the people that the person was truly healed and that he could reunite with the population again. Contrary to the laws of logic, they were not waiting to be cleansed of leprosy, and then to proceed to demonstrate which the law requires. Still not healed and covered by wounds, running sores and in terrible pains from illness, they embark on a journey to show themselves to the clergy. Christ demonstrates here their complete obedience, since they did not wait for the miracle to happen first, but by listening to His words they immediately went on their way.
“And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.”
As they moved, they suddenly realized they were healed. All these running sores, scabs, hair and skin that fell off, simply disappeared. The Lord heals them precisely due to their obedience. However, out of ten of them, only one returned to glorify Christ, and this individual was not Jewish but a Samaritan. And while the rest of the lepers were on their way, they had realized that they were healed.
“So Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who were returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’”
Here Christ uses a mild chastisement towards those that did not return, saying that the glorification of God should be a priority for every human being. At the same time, through the Samaritan, who has returned to glorify God, we see what the meaning of true faith is. His faith was not determined only by the acceptance of the existence of God, but also by realigning future direction of his life according to the will of God. The Samaritan not only followed Christ while he needed physical healing, because this would have been an imperfect and incomplete faith. When he received physical healing, he has kept Christ in his heart. He did not allow his earthly worries and problems to separate him from Christ, like the other nine that were healed, but instead he returned to glorify God. He showed that he wanted to live and act according to the will of God - which is true faith. Only then did Christ exclaim:
And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
Why is gratitude and the worship of God so important to us? Our gratitude towards God will not affect the existence of God or alter His being, but will transform and influence our own being. God does not need our prayers and our gratitude in order to exist. Instead they are needed for us to rise above our own corruptible and fallen nature, and thus aligning ourselves to an immortal God who is the only source of life. Through the grace of God, we continually remind ourselves that we are not meant for this transient world, nor that the purpose of our lives is the mere survival while waiting until death arrives. The worship of God, in fact, directs us to eternity. When Christ said, " Haven’t ten people been cleansed? And where are the remaining nine? " Christ points to the fact that God asks of us gratitude. The Holy Scripture testifies that God, from the Old Testament patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, sought the sacrifice of gratitude (Genesis 8:20, 12: 7 -8). Christ Himself, corrected the ungratefulness of the first man “Adam” and showed us by His own example, how God should be glorified (Matt. 11:25, 14:19, 26: 26-27). The apostles themselves had followed His example and later so did those who followed Christ, ergo Christians.
God who creates us according to His image, will never abandon us. The various gifts that God bestows upon every human being, become tools for the acquisition of eternal life. Humans are meant to return all these gifts to God by using them primarily to obtain eternal life. The gospel referring to the servants who received talents, talks about this (Matthew 25:14-30). Only those two servants who had multiplied their talents and returned those to the Lord, were able to receive eternal blessings. This can only be achieved in one way: by using these gifts (talents) to obtain eternal life. He who buried his gifts did not enter "into the joy of his Lord". In other words, this refers to the ungrateful servant who had used these talents for his own personal gain in this transient and material life. Unfortunately, most people forget about God and what is given to us by God is being used for personal gain in this earthly life. When trouble arises like an illness, suffering, or any other terrible trauma, a person remembers God and cries for help. God will help because he is gracious and helps everyone: "He illuminates with His sun both evil and good; and gives rain to both the just and the unrighteous "(Matthew 5:45). Even after the shedding of His grace upon us, God does not take away our free will. After regaining physical healing, we most often revert to the worldliness and forget about God. In this Gospel, God heals ten people, but only one Samaritan returns to God the gift he had received, and this was an action of complete faith. When Christ uttered the words " Get up and go; your faith has saved you " only the Samaritan who returned the gift of healing to God received the full reward, even though all ten were healed.
The following words of Christ; "How come only one person who was a gentile returned and gave glory to God?" also reveal something very important. In speaking of this, Christ indicates that those who did not return to glorify God were Jews. The term "gentile" or "alien" is usually attached to those who belong to another nation and come from other countries, but in this instance also marks those who possess a different faith from the Jews. Why is this important to note? The Jews were considered to be the chosen nation to whom God directly revealed Himself to and to whom He had given the commandments. Therefore, it wouldn’t have been surprising in this Gospel if the nine healed Jews returned and glorified God, and for the Samaritan to have gone on his way. The returning of the Samaritan “Gentile” reveals to us that every person, regardless of the period and the nation he lives in, feels the need to glorify and thank God. The ability of being grateful is embedded in us when we are created. Through this Gospel, God reminds us that we are the only beings with the ability to worship, celebrate and thank God (lat. Homo adorans). In fact, because of the ability to give thanks to God, the basic definition of man is that he is a priest. The main characteristic of a priestly service is the expressing our gratitude towards God. Even in a secular society one of the very first thing parents teach their children is to be grateful and to say, “thank you”. Our Heavenly Father is asking the same thing of us. It is through our priestly service where we worship, celebrate, glorify and thank God that we rise above our corruptible human nature and turn towards eternity.
Thanksgiving is a way of life through which a person that is reliant on the laws of nature and whose sole purpose in life is survival alone (lat. Homo Sapiens) rises to be a person who overcomes his created nature and then sees the purpose of life to be in offering one’s self to God, along with all created (lat. Homo Adorans).
As the last and most important lesson before the crucifixion and as the culmination of all that He preached, Christ establishes the thanksgiving service - the Eucharist (gr. Eucharisto = thanksgiving) or what we call Liturgy. We are actually baptized in order to be able to participate in the service of thanksgiving - the Eucharist. Only by participating in the Eucharist is our baptism complete. By baptism, we not only submerge ourselves in Christ, but we also become anointed as servants of God - priests. This apostle Peter confirms when he speaks to Christians: " And you yourself, as living stones, build yourself into the spiritual house, the holy priesthood, to offer the sacrifices of the spiritual, blessed God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2: 5). "And you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy people,..." (1 Peter 2: 9). Baptism is done by laying of hands, anointing, dressing in white, snipping of hair, just as it is done when ordaining a priest. Before sanctifying the water at baptism, we pray to God for the one being baptized: "... and by preserving the gift of your Holy Spirit and increasing the grace of God, to receive the reward of the heavenly calling ... " This "reward of the heavenly calling" is the sacred gift of the priestly thanksgiving. This allows us to join in becoming people of God or, simply said, members of the Church. Only one who is baptized can be a member of the Church and thus acquire the right to participate in the service of thanksgiving - the Eucharist.
Here it is worth noting that, if God reproaches the healed Jews who belong to the chosen nation for their lack of thanksgiving to God, then how will it be for those that are baptized and call themselves Christian but don’t worship God. Today we often hear that baptized people often do not know what to do and how to behave during the Liturgy. The church began to be viewed as an institution, providing certain services, and where one attends only if absolutely necessary. The role of a baptized person in the Church becomes a lot clearer when we understand ourselves as beings that should thank and glorify God. It is the service of thanksgiving brought by the whole Church, and not only by priests in the altar, as it is gracefully understood. In the Church of Christ, each believer is a member of the “royal priesthood”, but there are different degrees of priesthood. Someone participates in the service of thanksgiving as a bishop, someone like a presbyter, someone as deacon, and the rest as (faithful) people. Every Liturgy is the moment when we fully establish ourselves as servants of God – those who thank and celebrate God. The very word " Liturgy " denotes a "common service" in which all the degrees of the priesthood, who together worship, participate. Priests and deacons cannot serve liturgy alone, without the presence of the faithful. If we listen carefully to the prayers that the priests say, we’ll note that they are always in plural even when only one priest serves: "For we honor your glory...", "... We offer you ...", etc. Every time when we cross ourselves, or say "Amen", "Lord have mercy", "Give the Lord", we make the Liturgy happen. We thus accept the Kingdom of God and we confirm that we want to get a share of this coming eternity. Every service in the Church is in fact a thanking and praising of God. For example, in the Church, a day begins with service (Vespers) that takes place in the evening. It is a daily reminder and gratitude towards God for the beauty of everything He created with love. "Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord my God, you are very great!......Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom have You made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures... I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. (Psalm 103).
The common service of thanksgiving (or Eucharist) with the Divine Liturgy connects and crowns all the daily prayers and services in the Church. The lepers of the Gospel represent the whole humanity that has been separated from God due to our sins. When we come to participate in the Liturgy we come as the lepers from this Gospel, bringing before Christ all our diseases, sins, distresses, and flaws. As it has been in the past, as well as today, Christ Himself personally speaks with the words of the Gospel that are read at every Liturgy. Just as the lepers did not understand everything that Christ taught, so too are we required to follow the Word of Christ even when we do not completely understand how it can affect us. All of the ten lepers heard the Gospel through Christ personally and received the gift of healing, but only the Samaritan, due to His gratitude, received from God the full reward.
That is why the Liturgy doesn't end with the Gospel reading. Right after reading the Gospel, while we still offer “ourselves, one another and all of our lives to Christ our God”, we also offer this created world that we obtained from God as a gift. Receiving from God this world as a gift, and giving it back to Him through the Liturgy, we fulfill our life with thanksgiving – that is, the “Eucharist” and thus we transform our life into life according to God. That is exactly what the Samaritan did by returning and bringing back to God the gift of healing. Bread and wine that are offered at the Liturgy are visible gifts of our thanksgiving in which the entire created world is contained. Accepting our earthly food – bread and wine as offers of thanksgiving, God sanctifies and returns the same gifts as our heavenly food - the Body and Blood of Christ. In conclusion, humanity gives thanks and glory to God, and in return God gives the gift of eternal life.
Very Rev. Fr. Sasha Radoicic