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Homily: January 16, 2022

The Healing of Ten Lepers (12th Sunday of Luke—Luke 17:12-19)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—One God.

Regarding today’s Gospel reading, St. Cyril of Alexandria tells us, “Falling into a thankless forgetfulness, the nine lepers that were Jews did not return to give glory to God. By this, he shows that Israel was hard of heart and utterly unthankful. The stranger, a Samaritan, was of foreign race brought from Assyria. […] “He returned with a loud voice to glorify God.” It shows that the Samaritans were grateful but that the Jews, even when they benefited, were ungrateful.”

From the Christian understanding, the Orthodox Church is the New Israel—we are the New Israel; but how often do we mimic the Old Israel? Reading the Old Testament can be frustrating: we see people who cry out to God for help, receive it, and then proceed to turn away from God and all that He has done for them. And where does that lead them? Back to a situation far from God, crying out yet again to God for help. And then the cycle repeats. Today’s Gospel reading is a stark mirror for us all to examine ourselves in.

And we can examine ourselves through four lessons we can see in today’s reading. First, there is the duty of gratitude that we have towards God, the importance of giving Him glory for all the goodness we receive: does thanksgiving occupy the place it should in our prayer life? Do we not ask for more things than we give thanks for? Second, there is the contrast between the ingratitude of the nine Jewish lepers and sincere gratitude of the Samaritan: may it not be that people whose faith is less true, even less orthodox, than ours are sometimes more pleasing to God than we are because their hearts are more appreciative of God’s gifts? And third, there is the relationship that Jesus establishes between faith and healing: “your faith has made you well.” Do we have faith strong enough to heal us? And fourth, there is the analogy between leprosy and sin. The Hebrews easily associated the idea of leprosy with that of moral impurity. Are we pure and healed of all leprosy? If we are not, do we at least say, with the ten lepers: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”?

A footnote in The Orthodox Study Bible reads, “Where are the nine? Christ came to heal all of fallen humanity, yet only a small portion receive Him in faith and thanksgiving to give glory to God (v. 18). Thus, “many are called, but few chosen” (Mt 20:16). The lesson for Orthodox Christians is that worship is the number one priority.” This fact is why I wrote what I wrote in my monthly message for this month: We are literally commanded by God to set aside at minimum the Sundays of each month to give glory and thanksgiving to God for all the sins he has cleansed and healed us of.

Let us all, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, model ourselves after the Samaritan, who, although not chosen by God as the Jews were, proved himself to be grateful and worthy of the healing he received. Let us all try not to be like the nine ungrateful men, who even though their leprosy was gone, their souls remained untouched and unhealed. The foreigner, the stranger, the lowly and despised Samaritan, however, by his thanksgiving received the fullness of God’s gifts.

As St. Gregory the Theologian wrote, “If you were full of leprosy, that shapeless evil, yet you scraped off the evil matter, and received again the Image whole. Shew your cleansing to me your Priest, that I may recognize how much more precious it is than the legal one. Do not range yourself with the nine unthankful men, but imitate the tenth. For although he was a Samaritan, yet he was of better mind than the others. Make certain that you will not break out again with evil ulcers, and find the indisposition of your body hard to heal.”