Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease (HD), is an infectious disease that afflicts mostly the skin and eyes. It causes great discomfort to the victim. The good news is that modern medicine can cure leprosy now with the right doses of antibiotics. The bad news is that at the time of Jesus, lepers were not so lucky with any cure. They were removed from the community and kept at the outskirt of any town to prevent infecting whole communities. The isolation of lepers from the community is still practiced as a precautionary measure against the rise of an epidemic. We may liken leprosy to the epidemic of Ebola which has devastated communities in Africa. Medical science is still battling to provide a cure to this virus.
The story of Fr. Damien is relevant. He was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1840. At the age of 24, he left for the islands of Hawaii to assist the neglected lepers of Molokai. He worked among the lepers. Against all medical advice, Fr. Damien refused to leave the lepers because he loved them sincerely. Unfortunately, he contracted the disease in 1885 and died of it in 1889. At his death, he had worked there for sixteen years. Pope Benedict XVI canonized him as a saint on October 11, 2009. St. Damien of Molokai is regarded as the patron saint of people afflicted with leprosy.
The love that St. Damien demonstrated to the lepers is what Jesus did with the ten lepers at his time. The ten lepers felt abandoned and frustrated to a life of loneliness and pain. They needed someone to comfort them from societal abandonment. In fact, their being lepers came with a psychological trauma; they were required to carry a bell and ring it at intervals as registered outcasts. Ten lepers summoned courage and went to Jesus. They said to him, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!" They knew their leprosy prevented them from mingling with other members of society. This limitation prevented them from enjoying their lives to the full. You can imagine the level of pain in the hearts of these lepers. The level of desperation further proves that they wanted freedom from loneliness and isolation. With no human contact, these lepers were left to suffer abandonment and stress. Even when they had any need, nobody could listen to them immediately because of the fear of contracting leprosy. This condition is equal to dying by the minutes.
The words of Jesus to them changed everything they ever wanted. He said to them, "Go show yourselves to the priests." What would priests offer ten infectious lepers? Would they sprinkle holy water on them and declare them fit to return to the community? It is simple to use this approach. Jesus knew deeply the history of this disease and the devastation it had on individuals. Leviticus Chapters 13 and 14 has some answers. It was only the priests that had the mandate to examine infected persons and to declare them ritually unclean. And if the persons were cured, only the priests had the mandate to return them to the community after certifying their cure.
By mandating the lepers to see the priests, Jesus knew the practice. The ten lepers did what they were told. They visited the priests and all of them were cured. Nine lepers were Jews, and one was a Samaritan. The story emphasizes that only one, the foreigner, that is the Samaritan, returned to thank Jesus. What about the nine Jewish lepers cured? They never returned to thank Jesus because they felt entitled to the miracle; the cure of their leprosy. They felt that Jesus was doing a national assignment and a healing bonanza. Have you ever encountered people who feel entitled to what you have? Have you ever done a good act to people in need and they return to vilify you? This is the attitude of the nine lepers. They never returned to Jesus, but the one foreigner returned to thank Jesus.
One lesson for us is evident. We need to appreciate the unmerited miracles we receive from God every day. Naaman, a leper from Syria, received an undeserved miracle from Elisha. He returned to Elisha to say, 'thank you.' He even returned with two mule-loads of gifts. Today many of us receive blessings from God, and we say, 'I made it' or 'It is my right.' How many of us see the hand of God in our successes, our healing, or our positive changes? You should count your blessings and name them one-byone because the Lord had been good to you. When you count your blessings, you need to return to God to thank Him.
The message today is to learn to appreciate God for his uncountable graces to us. Jesus showed the lepers the way to the priests and they became healed. The miracles of God to us are many but we must learn to identify them. So be ready to appreciate what you have, and what you have received. A Mongolian proverb says, "A heartfelt smile gives warmth enough for three winters." In Kingman, the winter is coming very soon. It is important to appreciate those who work hard to keep us happy every day. Fr. Damien did exactly that years ago and he is now a saint. Would you consider helping others this week no matter how little the task could be?
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