The obvious lesson from today’s scripture is the importance of showing gratitude. Naaman wants to shower Elisha with gifts and the Samaritan returns praising God for God’s kindness. He bows to the ground and thanks Jesus from the bottom of his heart. We are a blessed people and as I’ve said so many times we must try to develop an attitude of gratitude for all the blessings with which we have been blessed.
But let’s go to the origin of the gospel event. Ten lepers begged for a healing, a wholeness that would restore them to their families and society. These men did not suffer from leprosy as we know it. Any kind of skin disorder, something like psoriasis or acne was seen as unclean. People were afraid of infection so men, women and children who were in any affected by any skin disease were seen as a danger to the community and were not allowed to live within the community. It must have been a terrible way to live one’s life. When these lepers came to Jesus for help they knew enough to keep their distance. That was the law.
When Jesus cured the ten he sent them on their way to show themselves to the priests. That meant going to the temple in Jerusalem where this Samaritan would still be seen as a leper, unclean, unwelcome. He did not belong no matter how cured he was. He knew this; he lived with the animosity between Jews and Samaritans. He did the only thing his heart told him to do, he turned back praising God with a loud voice and thanked the one who made him whole.
Leprosy as a physical condition is not part of our reality. Leprosy as a social condition can be very much a part of our reality. Think of the kinds of people we hold at bay, keep at a distance because of our personal, not in my yard mentality. Are there people we don’t want that close, with whom we don’t want to rub shoulders? They dress differently, they look different, they talk different and they eat strange food. Not our kind of people. Who do we exclude from our lives because they live lives different from our own? Do we leper-ize men and women and children because of their color, creed or culture? Do we keep at a distance new neighbours, new parishioners, and new fellow workers because of our unspoken, unrecognized, un-admitted prejudices? These are important questions.
Fear of the stranger is not something new, it’s called xenophobia. Think of the hysteria some politicians tried to create when a boat load of Tamils showed up on the west coast. All kinds of irresponsible, unproven conjectures were raised against the refugees. They were terrorist, they were a threat to national security or they were smugglers. We have politicians in our city, our province and in Ottawa who are adept at leper-izing good people. We won’t be sucked into their rhetoric as we try to live Christ’s great commandment, ‘love one another as I have loved you’ lest we ourselves become lepers, excluded from the people of God.
Last Saturday we had a reception for new parishioners and some 30 people showed up. They welcomed the opportunity to meet other parishioners and it was good to hear they found you good people as welcoming them, they found St. Gabriel’s to be a welcoming parish.
They claim they have eradicated leprosy as a medical disease. The question for today is ‘what are we doing to eradicate leprosy as a social disease?’ Leprosy is that terrible disease we don’t recognize at times, a devastating disease that cuts us off from life giving, life enriching relationships with people of different faiths, cultures and lifestyles.
As we prepare to celebrate this Thanksgiving weekend we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we have a deeper appreciation of God’s blessings on each of us and with God’s grace do what we can to eradicate from our lives that dreadful leprosy that limits our ability to open our hearts and lives to others and share our blessing with them. May we always give thanks to God.