20 January 2020
Homily on the ten lepers, 2020
The lepers show us clearly the human condition. In two ways, all are alike; in one way, some are different. The question for each of us is, “Where am I in this story?”
All these men alike were lepers. All of them had a progressive, degenerative disease for which there is no human cure. Now it’s true that nine of them were Jews, and one a Samaritan. But in the face of their disease, the other ways men mark themselves as different had all faded away. All alike came to Christ, pleading for mercy.
Friends, we spend a lot of time showing how we’re different than other people. They’re a different color, or ethnicity. They hold a different political point of view. They root for the wrong team. But when we ponder the disease of death and of sin, what difference do all those distinctions make? Death and sin are no respecters of persons. And so it was with these ten.
So they cried out to Christ, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” The word for “Master” in Greek is epistata—a generic term for someone over you…rather like “boss.” They don’t call him “Lord.” They don’t call him “Son of David.” Just “boss.” It wasn’t what you’d call the deepest prayer, theologically.
Yet he hears their prayer, and answers them. “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” he tells them. They walk off in obedience, and as they walk, all of them alike are cured. And this is the second way they’re all alike. To all, alike, the Lord shows mercy.
So also with our human condition. God shows his mercy to all people. That doesn’t mean that everybody gets everything they want. Even Paul prayed to God to have a thorn in his flesh removed and was told, “No.” But God’s “no” was for a greater “yes;” the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is perfected in your weakness.” The prophet Jeremiah, seeing Jerusalem in ruins, could still say, “Through the LORD'S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness,” and again, “The Lord does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men.”
Alike in misery, alike in receiving mercy. But in one way, these ten were different. Only one of them, a Samaritan, came back to give Christ thanks. The Lord is surprised. “Were not ten cured? Where are the nine?”
Here he teaches us a powerful lesson. He himself had commanded all ten to go show themselves to the priests. The other nine were doing what he had commanded. But he commends the one who came back to say “Thanks!” Listen carefully to the lesson. The Lord values obedience highly; but he values thanksgiving more.
The Greek word for “thanksgiving,” by the way, is eucharisto. It’s no accident that the central act of worship for the Orthodox people of God is the Eucharist. Here we gather to give thanks to God. And we strive to make all our life a thanksgiving; as Paul says, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ.” When we give thanks, we give God what he values even above obedience. When we give thanks, we put the troubles and problems of life into proper perspective. When we give thanks, we open our eyes to see the mercies of the Lord. So let us follow the example of the one; let us be people of gratitude. As Alexander Schmemann says, “Everybody who is capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and of eternal joy.”