14 - Cleansing of Our Spiritual Leprosy, Dec 8, 2014

Ephesians 2:14-22

Luke 17:12-19

The leprosy of the ten lepers in this morning’s Gospel is exactly like the dividing wall of separation and enmity that separated us from God and which Christ destroyed, as we read in this morning’s epistle.

The Law of Moses placed those who had become leprous in the same class as those made unclean through contact with the dead; and indeed, to be stricken with leprosy was like being doomed to a living death. Leprosy eats away at the skin, disfiguring and deforming the body. Because leprosy is contagious and incurable, one who came down with leprosy was cast out of the community, doomed never to see his loved ones again. This is why I say to be stricken with leprosy was like being doomed to a living death. In ancient Israel, the Lord commanded Moses: “You shall put out both the leprous male and female that they may not defile the camp in the midst of which I dwell.” (Num 5:2-3)

The disfiguring effects of leprosy and the separation from one’s loved ones it caused is exactly the effect of sin on our soul. Through their disobedience, Adam and Eve contracted the spiritual leprosy of sin, and they were cast out of Paradise where God dwelt. You could say that in Adam, human society became a global spiritual leper colony. Before Christ came and destroyed the dividing wall of enmity that separated us from God, we were  all barred from entrance into Paradise, separated from God and at enmity with Him because of our spiritual leprosy that all of us contracted because of our own sins and trespasses. (Rm 5:12)

As recorded in Leviticus, the LORD gave to the priests detailed instructions for diagnosing correctly the symptoms of leprosy. (Lev 13-14). St Paul, like a Levitical priest, diagnoses for us the symptoms of our spiritual leprosy: worshipping the wisdom of our own opinion, sodomy, fornication, greed, malice, envy, gossip, pride, contemptuous scorn, boasting, disobedience to parents, (Rom 1:21ff) conformity to the mores of this world in blind and willful obedience to the spirit of disobedience that is active in the children of the world, following after the desires of the flesh and dwelling on the carnal desires of our thoughts (Eph 2:3-4). Note that the symptoms of spiritual leprosy are discerned from the secret desires of our heart and the inner, hidden activity of our mind.

In ancient Israel, lepers were commanded to wear torn clothes, and wherever they went to cry “Unclean! Unclean!” (Lev 13:45) Adam and Eve opened their eyes and saw that they were naked; the devil had stripped them of the Robe of Glory in which they had originally been clothed. As their “torn clothes”, they tore fig leaves off the fig tree and sewed them into garments to hide their nakedness.

And, if we were to come to ourselves, would we not see that we, too, are naked, that we have woven the fig leaves of vainglory, narcissism and conceit for our souls to wear, while our bodies are clothed in the rags of crippling deformities and infirmities of all kinds? But, would we even know that we are leprous and sinful if the Church did not proclaim to us that we were created in the Image of God; i.e., in Christ (Col 1:15)? That tells us that the physical infirmities, the psychological disorders, death and corruption in which we now exist are unnatural to us.

For, if we were created in Christ, then we were created for immortality, in the image of God’s own eternity (Wisd of Sol 1:13 & 2:23), not in the pig-sty of this global leper colony, separated from God in the enmity of our disobedience. We were made to be clothed in the radiant Glory of Christ’s own uncreated light, not in the torn clothes of our spiritual and bodily uncleanness.

Understand: the Gospel is a mirror. It reflects back to us not only our soul all leprous and sinful, but also our true self beneath our spiritual leprosy. It shows beneath our spiritual leprosy our original beauty in the Image of Christ, the Second Adam, and in the spiritual beauty of the Most Blessed Theotokos, the Second Eve. It reveals to us our original destiny: to become a holy temple in whom God dwells, our heart the sanctuary on whose sacred altar is offered the pure sacrifice of praise to God in love and thanksgiving.

If in the mirror of the Gospel we would see against the Image of our original beauty, the LORD Jesus Christ, how deformed and disfigured we have become, would we not cry out from the depths of our soul: “Unclean, Unclean”? And, if we were really to take this morning’s Gospel of Christmas to heart, that the Virgin’s Son, Immanuel, “God with us!” is passing through Galilee and Samaria – let’s say these represent the particular leper colony where we dwell – would we not want to rise up and go stand afar off with these ten lepers and cry out with them in the words of the Psalmist? “LORD, I cry unto Thee, hear me! Receive the voice of my prayer, for my soul is all leprous and sinful!”

For, we know from the Gospel that He is passing through on His way to Jerusalem. That means He is going to the Cross in order to descend into the hell of our leprosy’s terrifying loneliness, to fill it with Himself! He has come from heaven in search of us, even as He began looking for us when He first cried out to Adam in the Garden, “Adam, where are you?” He is descending into the hell of our leprosy for the purpose of destroying this dividing wall of enmity that has separated us from the tenderhearted God who created us in His own Image and Likeness. He means to purge us with hyssop and to cleanse us of our spiritual leprosy, to make us into a new creation, to create in us a clean heart and to renew in us a right spirit, to clothe us in His own Glory, the radiant garment of our original beauty, and to raise us to heaven restored to fellowship with His Father and His Holy Spirit, even to make us partakers of His own divine nature. (II Pet 1:4)

Beloved faithful, study closely the LORD’s command to the ten lepers when they cry out to Him, “Jesus, Master! Have mercy on us!” He says, “Go, show yourselves to the priest.” He is commanding them to do just as He commanded them to do in the Law of Moses. (Lev 13-14) Go, show yourselves to the priest that he may diagnose your leprosy. Do you see? It is the command to go to the sacrament of confession; for there, we show ourselves to the priest. We set before him the hidden activity of our mind – our anger or our envy, for example in which we secretly hate our brother (cf. Mat 5;22); we show him the secret desires of our heart that take us, for example, to certain websites to look at certain images intentionally to inflame the lust in our heart (cf. Mat 5:28) and he diagnoses our spiritual leprosy. He instructs us on how to take up our cross so that we can go about cleansing it, and how we can be restored to the community of the Church. (cf. Lev 14)

For, you see, our Levitical Priest is the LORD Jesus Christ who wants to penetrate all the way to the tomb of our heart where we are dead in our sins and trespasses. He wants to pierce all the way to the division of our soul and spirit, of our joints and marrow in order to discern the leprous thoughts and intentions of our heart, (Heb 4:12-13) so that He can purge our secret heart and, if we confess our sins, if we show ourselves to the priest, cleanse us of all our spiritual leprosy (I Jn 1:9) to make us a new creation, spotless and as white as snow, a holy temple in whom God dwells.

It says that as the lepers were going to do as the LORD commanded them, they were cleansed. Behold the cleansing power of the Church’s sacrament of confession! It is the power of Christ’s word given to the priests of His Holy Church in the outpouring of His Holy Spirit: “Whosever sins you remit, they are remitted.” (Jn 19:23) And so, anxious to cleanse us and to heal us of all our leprosy, the Church enjoins us as we prepare to make our confession: “Do not conceal anything from the priest (“Go: show yourselves to the priest”), lest having drawn near to the Physician, you depart unhealed” (the exhortation of the father confessor to the penitent in the rite of confession).

But, now let’s consider the lesson of the one leper who turned to the LORD and gave thanks. When he saw that he was cleansed, it says, he turned. That is to say, he repented. So also, having confessed our sins and received the cleansing of the Church’s absolution, we must repent of the sins we confessed – i.e. strive not to walk in them anymore.

It says that he fell to his feet and glorified the Savior. If leprosy was a living death, his cleansing was in effect a resurrection, his being raised from death to life. Can you feel the cleansed leper’s joy, his love for the Savior over the cleansing of his spiritual leprosy? Can you imagine how his love for the LORD penetrated all the way to the tomb of his soul to touch his secret heart, washing it clean of all worldly desires to make him ready to receive in place of his torn clothes the Glory of the LORD, ready to change his cry from, “Unclean! Unclean!” to “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me; for, He is merciful to all your transgressions. He heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the pit. He crowns you with mercy and compassion.” (Ps 102 LXX) I dare say that the joy and love of the cleansed lepers’ thanksgiving in his worship of the LORD was the original beauty of his soul that was beginning to glow in him again.

Brothers and sisters: when you receive Holy Eucharist, Holy Thanksgiving, you receive into your soul and body, all leprous and sinful, the glorified and deified body and blood of the Savior. You receive the medicine of immortality, the Living Waters of the LORD’s own Heavenly Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. How can we receive the most pure body and precious blood of the LORD and not be cleansed of all our spiritual leprosy? How can we not be made living and radiant and beautiful in the uncreated glory and virtue of Christ’s own divine nature, the Glory of God that He had with the Father from the beginning! How? Only if we eat and drink unworthily – without repentance, without thanks! Then we eat and drink to our condemnation!

Dearly beloved, having received this heavenly treasure, this medicine of immortality, this Robe of divine Glory, why would we let our feet take us back into the leper colony of the world so that we could give our eyes to impure images, our minds to carnal desires? How do we not condemn ourselves if we take the Robe of Glory we have received in the Church’s sacramental mysteries and defile it by giving our mind, our eyes, our hands and our feet, our tongue and our ears to the carnal desires of the world?

If our hearts are stirred by this Gospel of Christ, then let us be resolved to turn in the confession of our sins and in repentance with the one leper to the One who has cleansed us of our leprosy and raised us from death to life and restored us to our original beauty, and in the fear of God, with faith and love let us draw near to him always, every day, every hour, every moment in love and thanksgiving. Amen.