|14 - Ten Lepers, December 4, 2011|
In one of the prayers given us by the Church to help us prepare for approaching the chalice of Holy Eucharist in the fear of God, with faith and love, we call on the Lord just as the lepers did in this morning’s Gospel: “O Lord, as Thou didst not refrain from entering into the house of Simon the leper, or shrink from eating there with sinners, so also vouchsafe to enter the house of my soul, all leprous and full of sin.” This morning’s Gospel says that these ten lepers stood afar off. They were social out-castes because of the contagion of their uncleanness. Their leprosy forced them to see themselves as out-castes; and, in this, humility was forced upon them so that they called on the Lord from a distance, with no sense of entitlement as though the Lord owed them anything. They cried to Him from a distance with a full consciousness of the uncleanness caused by their leprosy.
This prayer of the Church, then, that prepares us to approach the sacred mystery of the Holy Chalice, by directing us to confess to the Lord the leprosy of our sinful souls, should, if we say this prayer with sincerity, help us to attain to the humility of a broken and contrite heart that the Lord loves and that He responds to.
How could the Lord not respond in the fullness of His compassion to the cry of a humble soul, even if the soul was at one time puffed up in the conceit of vanity but has now been humbled, grieved in the contrition of a broken heart when she begins to see the leprosy that has defiled her? The Lord on whom we call in the Church is the same Lord on whom the lepers called in this morning's Gospel. He is God the Word, the Son of the Father, by whom all things were made; and God is love. He created the world in His steadfast love so that, as the Psalmist says, the earth is filled with the steadfast love of the Lord. As love, God is absolute humility; and, in the love of His humility, in the humility of His love, He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant and became flesh and dwelt among us. He was obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross so that by His death He might destroy the death that separates us from Him and restore us to fellowship with Him that we might become partakers of His own divinity as He partook of our humanity. So, when a leprous and sinful soul cries out to the Lord for mercy, for cleansing and reconciliation, for restoration to communion with God, the soul simply calls on the Lord to do what is according to His will. To ask the Lord to accomplish His will for us is to pray in His Name; and, the Lord assures us that if we ask anything in His Name, anything that is in accordance with His will, He will grant it. The Lord desires not the death of a sinner but that he should turn from his wickedness and live. Call on the Lord for cleansing and healing of the soul and He will graciously answer us in the fullness of His mercy and compassion.
Moreover, when the soul cries out to the Lord in the humility of a broken and contrite heart, she begins to recover one of those fundamental qualities of her nature. For, she was created in the image and likeness of God. When she cries out in the humility of a broken heart, it is her pride, her self-will, her conceit, her self-righteous sense of entitlement that separate her from God, that is being broken. When the heart is broken in the sincerity of contrition, her own natural likeness to God is uncovered, her own natural humility, her own natural loving kindness. The Scriptures tell us that the Lord resists the proud but he loves a humble heart and is quick to respond in the fullness of His saving mercy and compassion.
Note that the Savior in this morning’s Gospel gives the lepers a command: “Go, show yourselves to the priest,” He says. He is calling them to an obedience; and, you see how the lepers, as soon as they obey are cleansed. Obedience to the Word of God is the fundamental principle of existence and life in God. It was in obedience to the Word of God when He commanded, “Let there be!” that the world began to exist and to live in God. Thus, in the instant that we turn to obey the command of God’s Word, which is Jesus Christ Himself, we begin to exist and to live in God.
Obedience is the active expression of humility before God and of love for God. In obedience to the will of God’s Word, we begin to uncover our natural likeness to God that is the fundamental principle of our having been created in the Image of God.
This makes it all the more critical for us to understand the meaning of the Savior’s command so that we, whose souls are all leprous and sinful, and therefore spiritually dead, outcastes from the presence and fellowship of God, can “go, show ourselves to the priest,” and be cleansed of our leprosy and be restored to fellowship with God. What comes immediately to mind is the sacrament of confession that Christ has given us in the mystery of His Holy Church. In the sacrament of confession, we have the blessed opportunity to show ourselves to the priest; i.e., to acknowledge to the priest in the presence of Christ and His Holy Mother our leprosy and our sins. Confession, then, is an obedience we practice as an active expression of our love for God and of our desire to attain to the humility of a broken heart that the Lord loves and does not despise. We have the assurance in Holy Scripture that even though our souls are leprous and sinful, “if we confess our sins,” if we “go, show ourselves to the priest,” God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from every impurity.” In that forgiveness, He raises us from spiritual death to existence and life in God. He restores us to the joy of fellowship with God and with one another in the love of God.
What can we learn from the one leper, the Samaritan, who, seeing that he was cleansed, returned glorifying God in joy and in thanksgiving? Do we not know from our own experience that joy and thanksgiving are the fruit that blossoms naturally in the soul that is rooted in Christ, just as the grape blossoms naturally on the branch that is rooted to the vine? This tells us that if joy and thanksgiving to Christ are not growing in our soul – even if we are coming to the sacrament of confession – it may be because our heart is not yet broken and contrite because the stone of self-will, conceit and vanity are still covering our heart; and our Christianity, our observance of the sacraments of the Church, even the sacrament of confession, may be perfunctory and insincere. We may be drawing near to God with our mouth but not with our heart.
For it is the soul whose heart has been broken and humbled that fills with joy and thanksgiving when she sees her leprosy cleansed away and her soul, darkened and spiritually dead because of her sins, suddenly enlightened by the command of the Word of God in the uncreated light of God’s bounteous grace and compassion. It is the soul whose heart fills with joy and thanksgiving to God that suddenly sees with eyes illumined by the grace of the Holy Spirit the compassion and mercy and goodness of the Lord. It is the soul that cries out from afar in the humble obedience of a broken and contrite heart that hears the Savior’s command: “In the fear of God, with faith and love draw near!” that hears the Savior say: “Arise!” into the Resurrection of the Lord. “Your faith has saved you” and restored you to the joy of eternal life, ascending from glory to glory in eternal fellowship with the Holy Trinity. Amen.