RECOLLECTION for February 2020: JESUS AND THE LEPERS
Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles made a summary of the life of Christ saying that “he went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). And that is true. There are many sick persons that we know in the Gospels who received the healing action of Christ who transformed their lives. Among these sick persons we find the ten lepers of whom the Gospel according to Luke tell us. These ten lepers approached Jesus asking for healing, and all of them obtained it; nevertheless, paradoxically, only one returned to thank the Lord. Their ingratitude calls attention considering that Christ had not only given back health to their body, but also that, with freedom from leprosy, he had also removed from them the condition of being marginalized and of persons rejected by society. Despite this, they did not give thanks. Seeing that the healing of the ten lepers meant for them not only bodily healing but also a social healing, abolishing the marginalization to which they were constrained by leprosy, this month, the poverty situation of which we shall speak will be that of marginalized sick persons, those who need help and consolation.
Enter into yourself.
Let us now dispose our heart to live this day of recollection. To encounter Christ, as St. Augustine tells us, we need silence and solitude (Io. eu, tr. 17,11). We create silence in our interior, silencing the voices of the world that surrounds us, the means of communication that daze us with news, noise that invites us to dispersion. We leave behind everything that disturbs us to go to encounter the Lord, asking him for ears of a disciple and a heart in love to listen and welcome his Word. Let us invoke the Holy Spirit:
Enlighten us, Lord, with the flame of your Spirit; He who is your Love poured into our hearts, inflame us with your love, and make us grateful for all your gifts and graces. We ask you this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (en. Ps. 71:3).
Your voice is my joy.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words of the Gospel according to St. Luke, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
11 As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him, 13 and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”14 And when he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; 16 and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.17 Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?18 Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” 19 Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
The Firmament of the Scriptures.
Leprosy was a sickness that excluded one from the community; though in Old and New Testament times medical science was not as good as it is today, and many illnesses that were considered leprosy are not so today.
This illness, like many others, was considered by the Jews as a consequence of some sin that had been committed by the patient himself/herself. Furthermore, it was considered a contagious disease, and for that reason the leper was condemned to live far away from the family and in isolated places, where he/she cannot have contact with others.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, and in one village ten lepers come out to meet him, one of whom was. furthermore, a Samaritan: double motive to be despised and isolated by the Jews.
The dialogue between the lepers and Jesus is quite suggestive, because one would expect that the lepers would ask only for physical healing, but their invocation went beyond that: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us”(v.13). The reply of Jesus seems to suppose that healing was effected because the priest is the one who determines if the leper has been cured and decrees integration into the community (Lv. 13).
Luke seems to change the order of the actions, to underline the faith of the lepers, and that the healing is not only physical. He begins from the mercy, from asking for pity from Jesus in order to be healed.
More suggestive still is the reaction and the attitude of the Samaritan leper. He returns to thank Jesus, after all the Jewish Priest has no jurisdiction over him. But he thanks Jesus prostrating himself face to the ground. An alien recognizes the power of God and glorifies him. Jesus invites him to arise (anastas), that is more than to be on his feet. It is rather to start a new life because his faith has saved him.
The whole scene brings to mind the implicit universal love, the merciful love of Jesus that reaches out to the most alienated and most forsaken. It is also an invitation to rise up to start a new life, that he who is cured undertakes, not only healed from physical and excluding leprosy, but from all types of leprosy, that if not healed by pardon and mercy, will end up terminating with our whole life.
In his commentary on this text, St. Augustine emphasizes above all two elements. First, he points out that leprosy is a sickness that, among other things, is manifested by the change skin color. This is interpreted as the change of healthy doctrine for heresy or supine ignorance. And since leprosy is seen in diverse parts of the body, it can be noted by others, which for St. Augustine represents the pride of the ignorant who do not hide their own nescience, but rather show it and even brag about it, speaking with authority before others. St. Augustine points out that these proud ignoramus are not only intolerable but also the infamous in the Church:
They are not those who hide their ignorance, but those who openly show as if it were a perfect proficiency and they show off the package in speaking. (…) These persons are very detestable for the Church (qu. Eu. 2,40,2).
Faced by these proud and ignorant, St. Augustine would invite us to the humility proper to wisdom, which is arrived at by the road of charity.
On the other hand, upon commenting on the text of the ten lepers healed by Jesus, underlines the importance of thankfulness to God for all his gifts. The Bishop of Hippo greatly admires the fact that only one of the ten came back to give thanks to God. That is why St. Augustine points out that in the Gospel of St. Luke we are told that all were made clean, but not healed. Only the Samaritan who returned to give thanks to God was effectively made clean and healed. He was healed from the consequences of the spiritual leprosy, i.e., of pride and ingratitude:
There is need, therefore, to examine the meaning of the leprosy itself. Because of those, who saw it disappear from their body, it is not said that they were healed, but cleansed (qu. eu. 2,40,2).
Furthermore, St. Augustine would invite us to avoid a second leprosy, that of ingratitude, by which we believe that we are just and that we merit everything, or that everything we have is ours, and therefore, we do not have to give thanks to God for anything. In fact, St. Augustine reminds us with St. Paul, that everything we have is not ours, but that we have received them from God (1 Cor. 4:7), and the only thing we own and which we can really call our own, are our sins:
Therefore, to him we owe our existence, life and intelligence; (…) Ours, there is nothing except sin. In fact, what do you have that you have not received? (1 Cor. 4:7). Therefore, you, especially you who understand what you hear, that it is necessary to be healed of the sickness, raise up to heaven your purified heart (…) and give thanks to God (s. 176,6).
There is therefore an invitation to gratitude, having humility as its point of departure, the recognition of our own limitations, of our own poverty. Only he who has the leprosy of pride, not only makes a conceited ostentation of it, causing harm to the Church, but also is ungrateful to God, because he believes that he does not have to be grateful to no one for nothing, because he believes that everything is his own. That is why, St. Augustine reminds us that the road that leads to God and makes us like Christ, is the road of humility, in imitation of the Master, meek and humble of heart:
The true and safe road toward heaven is prepared by humility, raising the heart towards the Lord, not against the Lord (ciu. 16,4).
The cry of the poor.
Among the sick there are three very vulnerable groups that are frequently stigmatized and discriminated against. We are talking about those inflicted by leprosy, those who suffer from AIDS or HIV and those who have mental illness.
The Raoul Follerau Foundation affirms that in the whole world there are more than 16 million persons afflicted by leprosy or the Hansen disease. In India there is a concentration of more than 60% of lepers, Brazil has more than 11% and Indonesia about 8%. Every year there are more than 200 thousand new cases of leprosy. The WHO, in its 2018 report, informed that some 38 million persons in the whole world have AIDS or HIV and that around two-thirds of these inflicted persons are found in the African continent. Similarly, the WHO report for the year 2018 brought to light the statistics of principal mental illnesses. Among them there are some 60 million persons who are bipolar, some 23 million have schizophrenia, and more than 50 million with dementia. These mental illnesses influence in some 800 thousand cases of suicide annually. Wars and catastrophes are factors that cause mental illnesses.
As Raoul Follerau would say, these three groups of sick people are “the most oppressed minorities of the world.” They have no visibility, voice nor power. Frequently their human rights are violated and their dignity mistreated. They are the groups that are very much exposed to marginalization and stigmatization, and most of all object of much prejudice. There is scarcity of Psychiatrists, Psychiatric nurses and doctors in the zones where there is great number of lepers, AIDS patients, and persons with mental illness. The great part of these sick persons are found in middle low and low economic classes, with the important problem of access to medicines that usually are very costly. They live a very important discrimination in the social level, above all to integrate themselves in school, labor and sports activities.
There exist government programs, foundations, persons of good will, and above all, many Catholics attend to these three groups of sick persons with material help, spiritual services and aid. Among them we emphasize those who, following the example of Jesus Christ, do their service from a compassionate and merciful heart. The service rendered by Fr. Damian de Veuster is exemplary; he made himself the missionary of the community of lepers in the island of Molokai in Hawaii.
Thousands of Catholic missionaries attend to patients of AIDS and leprosy in the poorest regions of Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America and in the very depressed barrios of great cities. A concrete case in our days is Sister Antoinette Profumo, a religious of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Apostles; she is directress of a health center specialized in those infected with leprosy and AIDS in Koloware, in the center of Togo. The Fides Agency interviewed her on September 18, 2017, from which we take some of the commentaries:
We assist more than 800 persons in antiretroviral therapy, of whom 50 are children. AIDS, like leprosy, creates discrimination and often rejection by the family itself because it is considered a shameful illness. Majority of the women are abandoned when they are seriously ill… God has not created bridges, he gave us hands. The African wisdom reminds me that what we can do is very important, that we must look at life with an open heart, with a sense of responsibility, doing what is in our power in every circumstance. Our hands are guided and supported by Providence that come to us in so many different ways, but always to help us build something beautiful and good. That is what I learn everyday here in Koloware, in an animated and sometimes frantic life of our Health Center.”
Your commitment and your response.
- The ten lepers were made clean of leprosy, but only one returned to give thanks to Christ. How is your gratitude for the gifts of God?
- The lepers, without coming near to Jesus, begged him to have pity on them. How do you live compassion in face of the needs of those marginalized by the community and by society?
- The Samaritan, who returned to give thanks to Jesus, prostrated himself face to the ground, recognizing the divinity of Christ. How is your faith in face of the positive and negative events in your life?
- Christ wondered at the ingratitude of the nine lepers who did not return to give thanks. How is your humility in face of the gifts of God? Do you know how to be grateful?
Do not attribute to yourself the gifts you possess, lest you find yourself among the nine lepers who did not give thanks to Christ. Only one showed gratitude; the rest were Jews; that one was an alien and symbolized the gentile nations. We owe our existence to God, our life and our intelligence; we owe our personhood to him, that we live holy lives, that we correctly understand. Ours is nothing except our sins, therefore, let us never forget to give thanks to the Giver of all our goods and perfect gifts, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen (s. 176,6 :paraphrase).
He healed the leper, he healed the paralytic. All these are sickness of the soul. He cured the lame and the blind, since everyone limps who does not walk rightly along the road of life, and he is blind who does not believe in God (…) Everyone who is fickle and a liar has stains of leprosy. It is necessary that he heal him interiorly who healed him exteriorly, precisely that he may desire to heal interiorly” (s. 63A,3 = s. Mai 25,3).+