6TH SUNDAY OF THE ORDINARY TIME
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Try to imagine, for a moment, a situation where you would have a horrible, incurable disease which not only causes you great suffering, but also makes you a virtual outcast in society, where people are afraid to have normal social contact with you lest they should be in danger of contracting the disease you carry. Leprosy was such a disease until not too many years ago. Then imagine that you come into contact with a miracle-worker, and that your desperate plea for a cure rouses the pity of the miracle-worker, and you are instantly cured of your disease, you feel your strength returned and your body once again feels whole and healthy. Then, the miracle worker simply tells you to do one thing in return, to keep his identity to yourself, not to tell anyone who it was that performed this work of mercy for you. Would you not feel it was a matter of strictest duty to keep your secret strict to yourself until your benefactor should release you from this secret? And if you in fact were not to keep this one demand, would you not consider this the most ungrateful betrayal of someone who had been so merciful to you?
How shocking it is, therefore, to see what the leper whom Jesus took pity on, betray the one thing that Jesus asked for himself. I mean had Jesus offered that man a cure on the condition that he sign a paper making him Jesus’ life-long servant, do you think for a moment that this leper, doomed to be a social outcast and to die a miserable death would not have signed! And yet all Jesus asked was one simple thing, that the man keep this a secret between them, that’s all, not money, not service, not even honor, just to keep a secret!
The inability of this man to be sufficiently grateful to keep this matter quiet as Jesus commanded, shows in a terrible way just how week human nature is, just how prone to sin and betrayal, just how shallow human gratitude can be in the sinner. There is no doubt that leprosy can be seen as a kind of physical image of sin that corrupts man’s soul, just as leprosy destroys his body. And in this account we can see just how much more awful the spiritual leprosy of sin is than the physical disease called leprosy, or any physical disease. Being a leper may have meant that the man was a social outcast, but no one would seriously assert that leprosy, as such, makes a person a bad person, or lessens the intrinsic dignity of the poor leper.
But the leprosy of sin causes man to lose his dignity, as a person, and ends up isolating man from God and also from his fellow human beings. The leper in today’s Gospel was not less a man because he had leprosy. But who would deny that he became less a man, lost something essential to his human dignity when he betrayed the very person who had restored his health and restored him to society? Who would ever trust such a man if they knew he had betrayed the very man who saved him from death? He is like the man who had a demon cast out, and then seven demons returned to possess his soul, and his last state was worse than his first.
What was the real problem this man had that led him to betray Jesus who cured him, and end up in a state that was worse than his leprosy? Was it a lack of faith? No, the leper showed he had at least some faith when he knelt before Jesus and proclaimed that Jesus could cure him, if Jesus but willed it. That certainly shows some kind of faith, at least in Jesus’ power to work miracles. But it evidently was not the kind of faith that leads to salvation, the faith that makes a man a true disciple of Jesus and brings salvation. Something was lacking to this man’s faith, something without which faith profits nothing for one’s salvation, but what was it that was lacking?
What was lacking was love, without which faith is dead; for unless charity inspires and informs faith from within, we know that faith profits nothing for salvation. In the Letter of James (2:19), we hear that even the devils in Hell have a certain faith in God. They too believe in Jesus’ power to work miracles – they have witnessed them; but this minimal faith does not bring them salvation, for it is not interiorly perfected by love. The Devil and his cohorts hate Jesus, as they hate His Father, but they cannot help believing in his divine power, and in his identity as the Son of God. The leper I feel sure did not hate Jesus, but neither did he really love him, or he surely would have kept his one request as a command. For the true lover, the slightest request of the beloved is like a command that must be obeyed, or love itself is betrayed. The man was loved by Jesus, but he did not reciprocate, and thus his faith was dead, and his last state was worse than his first.
Faith without love is dead, and ingratitude is its sign. St. Paul taught that even should he burn his body in witness to faith and have not charity, it profits him nothing! The fact that we say we believe in God, and in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not mean we have a saving faith. And only if we come to love God more than our very life will we be saved in the end. Only if we love Jesus more than our very life will we spend Eternity with Him. And that means only if we struggle to obey his slightest wish as a command will we be part of His Kingdom. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says explicitly, that not all who call him Lord will be saved, but only those who actually do the will of His Father in Heaven, which means only those who obey Jesus as the very Word of God.
In truth, we are all spiritual lepers whom Jesus took pity on, and He cured us not simply by an act of His will – as he did the leper – but by the sacrifice of His very life on the Cross. And He demands only one thing in return, that we love Him and each other as He has loved us. But how can we say we love him if we are not making every effort to do his will, if we are not anxious to make his every wish our command, if we are not willing to lay down our lives for Him as he laid down his life for us?
If we truly believe that we have been saved from an eternal fate far worse than all the evils we see in this world, if we truly believe that our salvation came only by an act of love on the part of God’s Son that beggars our capacity to understand, and if we truly believe all this with a heart filled with love for Him, there can be no question as to how we should live the rest of our lives in this world. His word must become our command. To betray such an act of love by ignoring his will, or by being indifferent as to how Jesus wants us to live in this world will surely leave us in a final state that is far worse than our first condition before He died for us.
No, we Christians must imitate St. Paul as he imitated the love of Christ As Paul says to the Corinthians, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,
do everything for the glory of God.” That is how gratitude and love respond to Love and Redemption. If we follow that path of love, then for sure our last state will indeed be better than our first, and we will surely share in the very glory of God, in the service of which we lived our lives in gratitude to our Savior, out of love for Christ. Let us make the leper’s first prayer our daily prayer, Lord “If you wish, you can make me clean” make me whole, make me holy. He will surely answer as he did then, “I do will it.”