12th. Sun. of Luke, Luke 17: 12-19; We are all Lepers

Today the 10 Lepers are given us to consider. Leprosy throughout the scriptures represents sin. St. Gregory Chrysostom’s 2nd pre-communion prayer includes “O Lord my God, be pleased to enter into the house of my soul, humble and leprous and sinful.” When Miriam, Aaron’s sister sinned by speaking against Moses regarding his Ethiopian princess wife Tharbis, (not Zipporah; see Irenaeus), God covered Miriam with Leprosy for 7 days. Naaman, commander of the Syrian army suffered from Leprosy and Elisha sent him to bath in the Jordan River 7 times – a pre-figuring of the cleansing of baptism – and his Leprosy was cured. King Uzziah proudly and unlawfully went into the Altar in the Temple to burn incense to the Lord and was struck with Leprosy. The connection is very clear. Leprosy equals sin.

We hear (Rom. 3:23) “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” We are all Lepers and in need of healing. Although our inner Leprosy is more hidden from human eyes, it appears just as ugly and deformed when exposed in the light of God. Perhaps we might even say the Lepers were fortunate, as their disease/sin was so obvious that they couldn’t pretend all was well. They and everyone they met knew they were afflicted. If we met them today on the streets of Cranbrook, they would have a difficult time responding to the usual greeting, “Hey how’s it going?” … “Pretty good, everything’s cool man.” So we see the first condition to receiving help is to realize and admit that we need help. These 10 Lepers knew they needed help. They were waiting for Jesus and petitioning “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” – the Jesus prayer, the essential prayer of the Church. When we are told (1 Thess. 5:17,18) “Pray without ceasing;” this is the prayer the Church gives us to fill our minds and hearts.

The 10 Lepers were “standing afar off.” Their Leprosy meant they couldn’t associate with the rest of the people. They could only hang with other Lepers and look longingly on at the healthy ones in normal society. This is a picture of us enmeshed in our sinful, broken and isolated lives. We often get comfortable with our sinful lives, and hang mostly with others who are living similar lifestyles. We take comfort that at least we have a community to hang with and we aren’t doing so bad compared to some of them. We have a deep God-given need to be in community; and our greatest fear, legitimately so, is to be in isolation. In the Church, in communion with everyone, with the saints, the angels, even with Christ Himself, we enter heaven. In isolation, communing only with ourselves, we live in Hell. If we are fortunate enough to have been exposed to sane and healthy people – in other words, the saints – we are drawn to them and inspired to seek to imitate their lives, to connect with them, our true family. We begin the transition to health in the very same manner as our 10 Lepers today. Crying out to Christ for His healing and mercy and then actively pursuing the kingdom of God. Going to see the priests and being received back into the kingdom of God through repentance, confession and thanksgiving and giving God the glory! The Lepers went to the priests to obey the law of Moses, which was of course only a foreshadowing of the reality of the fullness of Christ, the lawgiver Himself. In the Old Testament, there was a very elaborate inspection process entrusted to the Priests to accept healed Lepers back into the community. If you passed inspection you were quarantined in isolation for 7 days and then brought back into the community on the eighth day.

Christ fulfilled everything. The Old Testament is full of types and foreshadowing’s of Christ and His appearing in the flesh brought us into the new age where death is destroyed, and God is with us all in the Church. We meet together on the eighth day to celebrate our communion and life in Christ in the Divine Liturgy! When you come to confession to Christ, and show your Leprosy, your sin to the Priest today in the Church, he tells you “Behold child, Christ is here invisibly receiving your confession… I am only a witness bearing testimony before Him of all things which you say to me.” It is to Christ Himself you come. The priest places his stole over your head and says: “Now, having no further care for the sins which you have confessed, depart in peace.” You are completely cleansed and forgiven! We have such a great opportunity for healing, with confession and communion, and it is all completely covered under the Orthodox health care system. The premiums have all been paid in full on the cross by our Saviour Jesus Christ! No one who comes is turned away. What a great and sad waste, if we don’t take advantage of the renewal our dear Lord so greatly and freely wants to give us: Life and life more abundantly!

Of the 10 Lepers whom Christ sends to the Priests, the nine Jewish Lepers do not return to give Him thanks for their healing. Only the Samaritan – the heretic hated by the Jews – recognizes that here is Christ the Messiah, and returns to give thanks and glorify God. The other nine probably stayed stuck in fear of the Jewish priests and leaders, and because of their fear did not receive the completion and most important part of their healing; the faith to know Christ as God and to receive true healing of soul and spirit and eternal life along with their bodily healing.

These nine ungrateful healed Lepers represent the tragic rejection of Christ, the very Messiah they were waiting for, by the Jewish leaders. In their willful blindness they could not see that He fulfilled all the signs and miracles of the Messiah that their prophets had given them. St. Cyril of Alexandria in the fifth century comments on this passage, “(Luke) here shows that Israel was hard of heart, and utterly unthankfulthat the Samaritans were grateful, but that the Jews, even when benefited, were ungrateful.” Remember, the Jews were the chosen people, the very race that produced the most holy Theotokos. She whom God took His very humanity from. Today, Dec. 9 we celebrate her conception announced by an angel to both her parents separately while they were both seeking comfort from God, as they were childless and far past the age of childbearing.  Our salvation history from the beginning through to the most glorious birth of Christ, all came from the Jewish race. Christ Himself told the Samaritan woman at the well, the future St. Photini, that (John 4:22) “…salvation is of the Jews.” Yet here we see another Samaritan heretic get it right and the other nine who were of God’s chosen people completely miss it. This should be a very sobering revelation to us here in the Holy Orthodox Church. We can undoubtably trace the birth of the Orthodox Church and her teachings in an unbroken line all the way back to the day of Pentecost and the teaching of the 12 Apostles. We have faithfully protected the fullness of this original faith, passing it on to every generation of the Church through 20 centuries now, in continuity without alteration. We are the Church which Christ established and which the gates of Hades will not withstand. Thank God, through His grace we have found refuge and are safe in the ark of the Church. But is this the goal, to just take refuge? To congratulate ourselves that we have found protection? How thankful are we? Do we take up our cross and co-suffer with Christ for the life of the world?

Our job is to join with Christ and pray for the reconciliation of all people with God. The whole world. How is this accomplished? There is no patented formula, God’s blessing and plan for each of us is to be found in our individual circumstances. It is sad that the nine healed Lepers couldn’t even come and give thanks for such a wonderful blessing as their healing. They sought this healing with all their being, but once this was accomplished was their journey completed, or just really beginning?

Christ calls us to be thankful in all our circumstances. When we are joined to Him, we are promised, (Gal. 5:22) “…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” We love to meditate on these things. But we are also promised suffering and persecution. We sing in the 3rd Antiphon every Sunday, (Matt. 5:10) “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.” Is that what you picture when you come and ask for a blessing? Rejoicing and being exceedingly glad – Thank you Jesus for this revilement, is not usually our go-to reaction when someone scolds us and calls us an idiot. We hear Christ tell us, (John 16:33) “…in the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” How did Christ overcome the world? By hanging on the cross and dying, and we are to take up our cross and do likewise. We will be sure to encounter much suffering and tribulation as we are surrounded with a broken, sinful world, full of tragedy and death, and we ourselves, as broken human beings, create more of the same. This is not God’s doing, it is an inevitable result of living apart from Him and doing our own thing. God’s part is to somehow turn this horror into life and healing, by being with us always, in all of things. We are sure to experience these wonderful fruits of the spirit in the midst of circumstances that could not considered to be loving, joyful, or peaceful. But somehow in the middle of all this mess, we are to turn to God with thanksgiving and worship. This is to be our counter-culture response to all the circumstances in our lives. This is how we demonstrate that we truly trust God in all things. That we trust, (Rom. 8:28) “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” That He is a truly a good God who loves us and all mankind. We live our faith by offering Him in all things, thanksgiving and worship.

Like the 10 Lepers in today’s gospel, we too are given many blessings, that we may learn to thank God. We should take note of just how great a tragedy it was, that today’s Jewish Lepers were not even able to return and give glory to God for such a wonderful blessing. As baby followers of Christ it is easier for us to learn the joy and freedom of thanking God for all things, by starting with thanking Him for at least all the things we are happy with. When we are blessed to have a meal, to give thanks. When things go well with us, and our families, and our friends, to give thanks and worship our God. But as we mature in Christ, the goal is most certainly to be able to (1 Thess.5:16-18) “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This applies in the middle of circumstances we can’t possible comprehend. In sickness, tragedy, even in death to be able to turn to God for comfort, knowing that these circumstances are not the end of the story. That even death itself has been transformed into the entrance to true life. Have you noticed that every saint we celebrate has a date on the church calendar? This date is not the date of their “Happy Birthday” but rather their real birthday, into the glorious kingdom of God – the date of their death. The final words of many of our most precious and holy saints were recorded to be “Glory to God for all things.” May our hearts be filled with thanksgiving and worship as we grow ever closer to Christ, and may we join the Samaritan Leper who returned to give glory to God and found his faith had made him well.       Glory to Jesus Christ!