Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year: 2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17: 11-19
Miracles of healing abound throughout the scriptures. Such miracles never stand alone. They are always expressions of the Kingdom of God breaking into our world. Thus the prophets, heralds of that kingdom, frequently performed miracles of healing. The leper Namaan, a prominent Syrian general, was cleansed by Elisha as a sign of God’s presence with his chosen people. The Gospel miracles, such as the healing of the 10 lepers, demonstrated that in Jesus the Kingdom of God had come among us.
Healing and salvation cannot be separated. We long for a wholeness that embraces both body and spirit. Modern medicine can relieve most, if not all, physical maladies. Such medicine cannot heal broken spirits and disappointed lives. Sinful humanity bears within itself the wounds of past sin and is fearful for the future. Only in Christ do we encounter the healing, the salvation that brings wholeness and peace.
The Old Testament account of the healing of Namaan and the cleansing of the 10 lepers in Luke’s Gospel have much to teach us. As an outsider, a gentile, Naaman had not worshipped the God of Israel. Not unnaturally his sole interest had been in the physical healing that Israel’s prophet might bring. His interest had not been in what the prophet might say, but in what the prophet might do. As the narrative concludes, a search for healing became a search for communion with the God of Israel. When Elisha refused to accept any gifts for the miracle of healing, Namaan insisted that he might be allowed to take with him earth from the Holy Land – a strange request, but it expressed his longing to be one with the God of Israel. Healing had become salvation, a true communion with the God of Israel.
The familiar narrative of the healing of the 10 lepers tells the same story of healing leading to salvation. Once again the plight of the lepers expresses something far beyond its physical symptoms. Leprosy brought with it a necessary quarantine, an enforced alienation from the security of community.
Sin has the same effect on the soul, weakening the life that we share with God and with each other.
Christ broke through the isolation of the lepers, bidding them to go and show themselves to the priests. In so doing Jesus was fulfilling the ancient legislation of the Book of Leviticus that restored a leper to full communion with God’s people. Even as the lepers made their way to the Temple, they were cured. Only one returned so as to praise God. Jesus remarked “were not all 10 made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God except this foreigner.”
In these remarks we understand that healing is only complete when it leads to communion with God. The Samaritan leper, the outsider, was not simply healed. As he returned to give praise to God he was embraced in the life-giving communion that is our salvation. “Stand up and go on your way, your faith has saved you.”
In our prayers of petition we bring many needs to God. Let us always remember that we turn to a loving God who calls us first and foremost to communion with himself. Any favours that we might receive remain incomplete without a life lived in communion with the Lord. Our healing must become our salvation, our committed sharing in the life of God and his Church.