15 Ten Lepers - December 9, 2007

Colossians 1:12-18

Luke 17:11-19

The Gospel story of the ten lepers is told with such restraint that it would be easy to overlook the depths of joy it contains. But contemplated in light of the hymn to Christ we find in St Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, the healing of the ten lepers takes on the quality of a creation story that opens onto a vision of indescribable joy. Just as the world is called out of darkness into the light of being, just as sinners have been delivered into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, so also the ten lepers are called out of their despair to wholeness and health. Imagine the joy when the lepers returned home and fell into the arms of their incredulous loved ones, having been altogether unexpectedly restored to health and wholeness by the word of the Savior.

And yet, only the one leper returned to give thanks. St Luke makes it a point to tell us that he was a Samaritan – one who was despised by the Jews. This Samaritan, by centering his joy on the Savior as he had centered on him his grief, discovered an even deeper joy: the joy of the Lord’s salvation. Let’s contemplate the content of this salvation the Samaritan discovered.

From St Paul’s epistle to the Colossians that we read this morning, we learn that the salvation of God is deliverance from darkness to light. Read closely this hymn of St Paul’s and you will see how “light” in the Kingdom of God is more than just “light”; to be in light is to be in fellowship with the saints: “the Father has qualified us,” St Paul writes, “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” But, to share in the inheritance of the saints in light is also to be in communion with the Father’s beloved Son: “He has delivered us,” the hymn goes on, “from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Light, in other words, is the quality of fellowship. Light is substantive. It is spiritual as the communion of love. As the absence of light, darkness, then, is the absence of substance and of spirit, because it would be the absence of fellowship and love. If light is communion, darkness as its opposite would be self-centeredness that produces the darkness of alienation, estrangement, and aloneness. If salvation is being delivered from the darkness to the light of fellowship with the saints in the Kingdom of the Fathers’ beloved Son, then salvation as light is deliverance from aloneness and despair to joy in the fullness of the fellowship of the saints gathered with the blessed Theotokos round this Jesus who is the icon, the beloved Son of the invisible God, in whom, through whom and for whom all things were created, who is the first-born from the dead, in whom the fullness of God dwells.

Now, the cynic might complain that this biblical vision of God at the center of the fellowship of the saints shows that God is in love with himself, selfishly demanding that everyone love him. What answer are we to give to the cynic? Why is God at the center of this communion of the saints in light? Let me share with you some passages from the Philokalia:

“Theologians call the divine sometimes an erotic force, sometimes love, sometimes that which is intensely longed for and loved. For, God is said to be the originator and begetter of love and the erotic force. For he externalized them from within himself; that is, he brought them forth into the world of created things. This is why Scripture says that ‘God is love,’[1] and elsewhere that he is ‘sweetness and desire,’[2] which signifies the erotic force.”[3] 

As Holy Trinity, a loving communion of three persons in one essence, God is love by his very Being. Naturally, then, as the Creator of all, what he creates will be Good and Beautiful, bathed in the uncreated light of his uncreated divine love. As the Creator of all and as the originator and the begetter of love and the erotic force that is poured out from himself and brought forth into the world of created things, when he brings creation into being and sets it in motion, the motion by which it moves in the principle of its being will be the movement of love and the erotic force – that force of love that impels us to seek loving union with a beloved.[4] But what is worthy of love and truly desirable is God himself precisely because he is himself love and sweetness and desire.[5] Gathered round Jesus, the saints are gathered round Him who, as the icon of the invisible God, is himself the Face of divine love, the Mind and Wisdom of divine Love, the Word of divine Love, the Way of divine love, the truth of divine love, the very substance and glory of divine love, the Life and Light of divine Love. Gathered round Jesus in whom all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell, the saints are bathed in divine love, they are eating and drinking, living and breathing divine love. And, in that divine love, they are in light as communicants of life eternal, partakers of the divine nature and therefore communicants and partakers of divine love; and soaking in the rays of divine love, the saints are full of goodness, compassion, kindliness and mercy. No longer living to themselves but living the life of Christ, gathered round the Wisdom, the Mind, the very Substance of Divine Love, Jesus Christ the beloved Son of the Father, the saints manifest the same divine love for the whole human race;[6] for, the life they live is no longer their own. It is Christ who lives in them in the love of God the Father and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

God is love. God is sweetness and desire. He desires not the death of a sinner. He desires not the death of a sinner so much that he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant and was obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross. He suffered the agony of the Cross and gave his life for us that the sinner might turn from his wickedness and live. It is an egregious insult, I daresay it is even blasphemy against God and his holy Incarnation to think and to teach – as some who call themselves Christians do – that, having given his life for us, Christ God would be satisfied to save only some. I think it far more in keeping with the biblical teaching of God to believe that Christ would chase every one of us all the way into hell if he has to and that he would manipulate every occasion, every word, every deed, even every failure and every sin and every mistake in our life as an occasion to call us out of the darkness and into the light that we might share in the fellowship of his saints who in light are gathered round him, the originator and begetter of love and that erotic force in us that impels every one of us to belong not to ourselves but to the beloved God who gave himself for us.

Perhaps now we hear the Savior’s call to the Samaritan differently: “But where are the other nine?” It is clear that Jesus didn’t care where the lepers came from. They were his creatures, every one of them, whether they were Jews or Samaritans, Greeks or Scythians, Russians or Slavs, Arabs, Africans, Indians or Americans. You don’t have to belong to a certain group to have the capacity for love, the very love of God. You need only to have a human heart; a heart that has been created in the image of Him who is himself the icon of the invisible God, in whom and through whom and for whom each one of you was brought out of the darkness of nonbeing and into the light of being for the purpose of establishing each one of you in the fellowship of the saints in light. For God, as the originator and begetter of love, as the sweetness and desire of love itself, and as the Creator of all things, desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth – which is the communion of the saints in light, the light of divine love.

Now we should begin to see what is this salvation discovered by the Samaritan when he returned to give thanks to the Savior. To be saved is to be made whole and alive in light, which means to be restored to our true nature as beloved of God called out of darkness to love as God loved us. Through our baptism, we were delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Father’s beloved Son in light. If we were saved in our baptism, it means that we were loved by God in our baptism. And, if we are walking in his commandments, it means we are walking in the light as he is in the light; we are walking in love as he is love.

We therefore understand that we are saved insofar as we are tasting the great love of God for us; we are being saved insofar as we are being cleansed of the leprosy of selfishness and greed to discover that erotic force of love that is the primal and ineradicable principle of our nature that has been created in the image of Christ, the Image of God, and that by nature impels us to seek God with our whole heart soul and mind that like the leper of Samaria we may come home to the fellowship of the saints in light, the uncreated light of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] I Jn 4:16

[2] cf. Song of Songs 5:16 LXX

[3] Philokalia II, pp. 280 & 281

[4] Ibid, p. 282

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, p. 282-283