|15 - The Leper Who Was 'Saved' - Dec 8 2019|
Leprosy is a living death. Because leprosy was so contagious, the leper was cast out of his community, from his family, his friends. He had no commerce with anyone except other lepers.
The Church gives us to know that in our souls, we are leprous. A soul all leprous and sinful, being eaten away by the guilt and shame of our transgressions, like the flesh that is eaten away by the leprosy, is for the prophets of the OT the consequence of Israel’s idolatry, which they liken to the infidelity of a married woman. But how is that any different for us, the New Israel, when, having been married to the LORD through Holy Baptism, we go chasing after the passions of lust and greed like the loose woman chasing after any man but her husband?
Leprosy makes visible what idolatry does to the soul. Uniting ourselves to lust and greed—the essence of idolatry (Col 3:5)—cuts us off from God and joins us to the lords of the idols. Following the prophet, Ezekiel, these lords “leave us naked and bare. They stone us and cut us to pieces with their swords.” (Eze 16:39-41) This, of course is a metaphorical description for how they take away our innocence and the peace and contentment that go with that.
Let us not pass this off as religious theory. We feel this spiritual leprosy in the dull ache of uneasiness, guilt and shame, remorse and regret that settle like a heavy stone in our gut when we give ourselves to the lords of greed and lust. We lose our capacity for intimacy or real friendship. We become like dumb beasts.
Feeling how our soul is all leprous and sinful, we begin to realize that there is no reason that the LORD should have mercy on us or even listen to our cry. And this realization can throw the soul into the despair of a hopelessness beyond words.
So, imagine the joy of the lepers when the LORD, it says, God Himself, in the flesh “came into their village!” Into the darkness of their despair the eternal Light Himself shone and a cry erupts from the depths of their soul: Master, Jesus, have mercy on us! It is the cry of the Psalmist, is it not? “My soul is full of troubles. My life draws near to Sheol. I am reckoned as among those who go down to the Pit. I am a man who has no strength! Like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom Thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from Thy hand. My eyes grow dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon Thee, O LORD, I spread out my hands to Thee.” (Ps 88:3ff.)
Let us note how quickly and readily the LORD answers. He gives them an obedience—for, it is through obedience to the LORD’s commandments that we “come to be” (Ps 33:9), that we are healed (‘take up your bed and walk!’), that we are even raised from the dead (‘Lazarus, come forth!’).
The lepers obey. They set out immediately to find the priest, and at once every single one of them is healed and made clean—as were every single one of us when we were immersed into the saving waters of the Holy Font. Touch the leper and you become a leper; the LORD touches the leper and the leper becomes clean, he becomes holy! He becomes a child of God!
How should we understand the one leper, who was a Samaritan who, when he saw he was healed and was no longer ‘unclean’, returned to worship the LORD Jesus? I believe the Psalmist, again, shows us the meaning: “I will praise Thee with the harp (with my heart, let’s say) for Thy faithfulness, O my God! I will sing praises to Thee with the lyre (my soul), O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to Thee; my soul, also, which Thou hast delivered [from Sheol]. My tongue will speak of Thy righteous help all the day long” (Ps 71:21ff.)
But we hear also at the Matins: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!” To live truly is to live in a heart that overflows with praise and love for God, whose spontaneous movement, whose very heart-beat is thanksgiving to God. To be saved, then, is to come truly to life, and truly to live is to love God in a ‘new and right spirit’ whose very “essence” is love for the LORD who “leads us up from out of the abyss” (Ps 70:20).
The Samaritan was ‘saved’ because his heart fell in love with the Savior. He wanted to be with the LORD; he wanted to belong to the LORD and to no one else. This is the mark of those who are the LORD’s people, this, not one’s ethnic heritage or social status, is the mark of those who are saved.
If you can imagine yourself actually receiving this healing love of God, of becoming one with Him, of being clothed in the divine majesty of His Glory, are you not suddenly very afraid? Perhaps we begin to see why the shepherds were afraid when they heard that first Noel. Yet, it is not a debilitating fear. It is a fear that makes one rise up, in fear and trembling, but with a joy and desire springing from the depths of one’s soul to make haste with the shepherds, to “go right now to Bethlehem to see this Glory of God that has come to pass”!
And so the Shepherds will very soon join this one leper to begin crying out to us: “Let us raise our minds on high, and in spirit, let us go to Bethlehem to see the Virgin giving birth to God in the cave!”
Let us understand who we are setting out to see on that blessed Holy Night. Let us understand who this Christ is whose angels and shepherds and all those whom He has cleansed and made whole and raised from death to life are crying out to us to come to Bethlehem to see Him, to adore Him, to worship Him! Let St Isaac of Syria tell us: “Be diligent to enter the chamber that is within you,” he says. This is the closet the LORD tells us to enter (Mt 6:6). It is the mystery of our heart, the mystery of the Cave of Bethlehem, the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb. That is, through prayer, work to uncover your deepest, most intimate yearning. There you will discover that you are a beloved of God who longs to love Him who first loved you! Then you will desire deep in your soul to rise up and go in spirit to Bethlehem—into the cave, the innermost chamber of your heart, following the shepherds, the leper and all “the people who know the festal shout, who walk in the Light of His countenance, who exult in His Name all the day, who extol His righteousness” (Ps 89:8)—in order to behold the Master, the LORD God of all, born as a little child, born of the most merciful Virgin mother. These are of the company of the Church, the throngs of those whom the all-compassionate LORD has cleansed and raised from death to life who will lead us into the Cave as St John came into the empty tomb of the risen LORD. May we see as a little Child, already prefiguring His Holy Resurrection, the God who alone our soul longs for and wants to cherish, who by His death has cleansed us of our leprosy and restored us to our original beauty. This is the Master, the Savior, the LORD of all to whom all who love the LORD, who want to belong to Him and to no one else, it is to Him that we all now hasten that we may satisfy our heart’s deepest longing and joy: to fall down before Him, to adore Him and worship on Christmas Night the Only Lover of Mankind who has destroyed our death by His death, born as a little Child that we might become children of God, born in the lowliness of a cave that we by His poverty might become rich in the riches of His love and grace. May it be so! Amen!