|12-Ten Lepers, Dec 7, 2014|
Again, since we are in the season of Advent, let’s presume this morning’s Gospel of the ten lepers is a Christmas Gospel given for our contemplation to help us prepare for the coming of Our LORD’s saving nativity.
Leprosy is a disfiguring disease that eats away at the skin and nervous system. As we see in this morning’s Gospel, leprosy is not limited by ethnic boundaries, since one of the lepers was a Samaritan; the others, presumably, were Jews. Leprosy carried terrible social consequences. The lepers in this morning’s Gospel stood afar off as they cried out to the Savior because lepers were cast out of society, which highlights the irony that those who, in the ordinary world were bitter enemies, had been drawn together by their leprosy into one community of outcastes.
The Church sees sin, the fruit of disobedience to the LORD, as a spiritual leprosy. We have every one of us gone our own way, says the prophet Isaiah (Isa 53:6). We have each one of us turned away from God in disobedience and have been stricken with the dread disease of “sin”, which acts on our soul as leprosy acts on the body. Beyond our ethnic and social divisions, we live a common life as outcastes of Paradise, separated from our Heavenly Father. We should therefore not imagine ourselves as lepers. We should understand that we are each one of us spiritual lepers, and it is from afar off that we cry out to the LORD, “Have mercy on us!”
It says that when the LORD saw the ten lepers, He spoke to them. Let’s consider first who saw the lepers and spoke to them. It was the LORD God by whom all things were created, who “clothes” Himself with Light as with a garment. What might that Light be that He clothes Himself with? I wonder if it isn’t the uncreated light or energies, i.e., the divine grace or uncreated glory that radiate from the divine essence that the LORD Jesus Christ has with the Father and the Holy Spirit from the beginning.
Now consider, how does the LORD of all see the lepers and speak to them? He sees them and speaks to them with His own eyes and voice that were truly and fully human, for He Himself, the LORD, became flesh and dwelt among us as Immanuel, “God With Us!”
But, how did it come to pass that the LORD God had human eyes with which to see the ten lepers, and a human voice with which to speak to them? It came to pass in the wonder of Christmas, a “mighty act of God” so terrible in its glory that the angels are amazed, the foundations shake, the nethermost parts of the world tremble (cf. FM 238). An angel of the LORD appears to shepherds in the field who were watching their flock by night to proclaim the Good News of Christmas to them. The shepherds, it says in the Greek, were terrified with a great terror, so that the angel has to tell them, “Don’t be afraid! I am proclaiming to you a very great joy! The Savior, “God With Us!” is born today as a babe.” He is born as a babe. God has become fully human and now dwells among us as Man.
But, how could He be born as a babe without a human mother? But, here is the wonder: He was born as a babe from the Most Blessed, the Most Holy Virgin. Isaiah the prophet foretold it centuries ago with a Hebrew word, almah, that is ambiguous. Does it mean maiden or virgin? (Isa 7:14) It was again an angel of the LORD that confirmed to the righteous Simeon (the same elder who will receive the LORD Jesus as an infant in the temple on Feb 2), when he had been assigned decades earlier to translate this passage of Isaiah from the Hebrew into the Greek, that it does not mean maiden but virgin, parthenos.
So, when the LORD saw and spoke to the lepers, it was with human eyes and a human voice that were His own, but which were His own from His Blessed Mother. Christmas, when God is born as a babe of the Most Holy Virgin, is the first epiphany, the first showing forth of the inseparable union of the Theotokos and the LORD incarnate. It is a union not only of grace but also of nature, for He takes His human nature from her and becomes Man even as He deifies her as Mother of God; for, how could she not be deified, permeated with the glory of God, clothed forever with the uncreated Light of her Son as with a garment. she who was herself the Living Temple and Tabernacle of God? (Cf., e.g., Exo 40:34; I Kgs 8:11; Eze 10:4)
In a wondrous manner, then, every word and action of the incarnate Savior shows forth this union of Christ and His Holy Mother; so that, in every word and action of the Savior there is hidden the tender love not only of Christ for His Mother, but also of the Blessed Virgin Theotokos for her Son, our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This love of Christ and His Holy Mother is in the word the Savior speaks to the ten lepers in this morning’s Gospel. “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” He says. Priests serve in the Temple; go to the priests and you’re going to the Temple. So, do I stretch things too far to see in this word a command to draw near to the Temple and to the Holy of Holies? But, these are icons of the Holy Virgin Theotokos, for she is the Living Temple, she is the true Holy of Holies. Now, “Go, show yourselves to the priests” is revealed as a call to draw near to the mystery of Christmas and to the tender love of Christ and His Holy Mother that is the very essence of Christmas.
By this reading, it is the same command given us in the word the Church speaks to us as she leads us to the mystery of Christmas. “Let us raise our minds on high,” the Church cries out to us, “and with the eyes of our soul, let us look upon the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the LORD of all.” (FM 201)
Note that the lepers are healed of their leprosy as soon as they obey the word of the Savior. Do we not also experience a palpable inner sensation of a healing of our soul as soon as we set out in repentance to obey Christ? But what is obedience but the concrete expression of love? And, if all that we’re saying this morning is true, then when we obey the word of Christ, we are submitting in love to the holy and tender love of Christ and His Holy Mother that is the very essence of Christmas.
And, yet, we see in this morning’s Gospel that this is only preparation for receiving the Gospel of Christmas proclaimed by the LORD’s angel to the Shepherds. Beloved faithful, when we draw near in faith and in love to the Light of Christmas that radiates from the Christ Child and from His Holy Mother – for how could she who is the Theotokos, whose bodily substance was united with the Spirit to conceive in her womb God in the flesh, not herself become one with the uncreated Light of her Son, Christ God – is there not born in our heart a certain holy wonderment that gives way to an all-sobering awe that gives way to joy inexpressible in a love for the compassionate Mother of our all-merciful God and wants to fall down in worship and pour itself out in inexpressible thanksgiving, eucharistia, as a sacrifice of praise for the LORD Jesus Christ born of the Most Blessed and All-Holy Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary.
I believe that in this, we become one with the Samaritan who returned to the LORD, he repented, and fell down to his face, the attitude of worship, and gave thanks in Holy Eucharist. Do you see? With him, we are not simply healed of our leprosy. Because of the Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos, we are made able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacramental mystery of Christmas and to become no longer spiritual lepers cast out of heaven but children of God, born of the Spirit from above, and to become partakers of the divine nature. We become one with God in our union with Christ, and the Theotokos becomes our Holy Mother. Like her, we are clothed in the uncreated Light of Christ, and with the leper and the shepherds, we take up the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest!” “Most Holy Theotokos, more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, we magnify thee who gave birth to God the Word for our salvation!” Amen!