Sunday 9th October, Twenty-eighth Sunday of the year C, Luke 17,11-19
In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals the outcast of both Galilee and Samaria. The lepers find themselves in no man’s land, fully dependent on others who may provide them with food and other supplies. It is then not very surprising that they cry to Jesus, “Master. Have mercy on us!” They would cry for mercy to anyone approaching their godforsaken place.
But Jesus is not just anyone. Jesus listen to them, and respond to their request by the power of his word. It might seem that they got more mercy than they expected, since they were all healed on the word of Christ. And it seems that they did not know how to respond to this overwhelming mercy. All but one disappear out of the story. However, one returns. The only one to respond to the healing power of Jesus was a Samaritan, who returned to Jesus, kneeled down for his feet, thanked him and praised God.
The story of the ten lepers was a deeply disturbing parable for those listening to it thinking that they belonged somehow to the right faith. A Samaritan on the other hand, was someone of wrong beliefs. They did not believe that Jerusalem was founded on the holy mountain, they thought it was Mount Gerizim. This was also expressed through the last of the ten commandments. All in all, they were seen as a sect, religious outcast that did not have a place among the faithful of the true religion.
If we were to translate it today, we could have replaced the Samaritan with a Muslim. Or a Mormon. Or an atheist. Someone in distance from the Catholic faith, someone who does not belong. Someone without the right belief. The parable today is a rectification of understanding faith, and clarifies the criterion of belonging in the Kingdom of God.
It is not the correctness of our faith that saves us. As the lepers, we are all limited in our understanding of God. Or, as I said to a friend of mine discussing the faith in God: “The question when I pass from this life is not if I got it right or wrong. The question is: How wrong did I get it?”
It is not I who define my faith. It is Christ who defines me. “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you” says Jesus to his apostles during the last supper. (John 15) We are chosen, not out of merits, but out of mercy. Are we open to this piercing regard of Jesus into our hearts? Are we able to see ourselves the way Jesus look at us? If the answer is yes, that means that we are willing to let go of all that usually gives us our identity. It means I am open to say: I am not defined by my profession, my skills, my intelligence. I am not defined by my weaknesses, illness or psychological struggles or even my sins. I am not defined by my feelings, my spontaneous affections, or my anxiety, or my restlessness. I am defined by my Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, who looks into my eyes and says: Follow me. I am defined by he who commands us: Love one another. And I am defined by the Son of man saying: You are my friends.
A true human life is a life resting upon Gods mercy, knowing that all I am, and all I may do depends on the divine love that creates and maintain this world. If this counts for me, it counts for all. Living a life in Gods mercy frees us from the desire of judging, of measuring, of counting. It fills us with hope, and a strong desire to share the gift that I have received. In the end, mercy is no one’s possession but God’s. And he is to give it to whom he wants.
As we gather to mass, we receive the mercy of God in the most concrete, palpable way. God share his pressence, his love and his mercy through the holy Eucharist, letting us consume his body as spiritual nourishment for us to grow to more fully, sanctified persons.
As we gather together as the body of Christ, we worship and give thanks for this precious gift. In the end, that is all we have to offer. We hand over to God our broken, imperfect lives, and in return, we get part in Christ himself. As we approach this divine table, let us pray that we accept his gift, just as we say before the communion:
“Lord,I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
F. Haavar Simon Nilsen