Christ and the Lepers, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56011 [retrieved October 6, 2022]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CodexAureus_Cleansing_of_the_ten_lepers.jpg.
RCL Year C, Proper 23 (Alternate Readings)
II Kings 5:1-3 and 7-15c, Psalm 111, II Timothy 2:8-15, Saint Luke 17:11-19
Lepers in the Biblical world were outcasts, driven out of society to their own separate and unequal colonies, because their disease was known to be communicable. Leprosy led to damage to the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. These outcasts became a byword. They were pariahs: they could without shame be shunned, ignored, and left to die. The Lessons today show us eleven lepers cured by God, restored to health, community, and acceptability. Their cures put them in touch with Almighty God and give them opportunity to give the glory to God. But do they?
Naaman escapes being cast out because he is a victorious and great commander. He gets his cure right in the end. To get it right, however, he must unlearn what he knows about grandness and power. He must learn that the Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, can use the simplest and meanest things to heal and to restore.
He learns the sacramental principle of God. Repeatedly, God tells his people to do something simple, and God will meet them there. In this service, for example, we give God some of his bread and some of his wine, and he gives us himself when he returns them to us with a value seventy times seven larger than they had originally.
Naaman is right: the rivers of Abana and Pharpar are bigger and stronger that the Jordan River. But God often uses the weak and the little to work his mighty will. When Naaman is cured of his leprosy, he exclaims, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” Israel itself was tiny and weak compared with Naaman’s Aram which included Syria, southeastern Turkey, and parts of Lebanon and Iraq. It was in tiny Israel that Almighty God chose to place his Name and to dwell.
In our lives, also, it is important to get it right in the end. We can make mistake after mistake, commit sin after sin, but through repentance we can get it right in the end. By the smallest and weakest effort of our will, we can declare ourselves to be God’s creature, created by God, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, we are marked as Christ’s own forever though it may take us a lifetime to realize exactly how valuable God’s commitment to us is and how deeply we need God and rely on God.
Jesus asks in the Gospel, “Were not ten [lepers] made clean?” One foreigner returns to Jesus to thank him. The other nine have received God’s blessing of healing, but they do not associate the healing with God. They are unaware, oblivious to God’s presence in their lives. But one in ten sees God’s presence in his healing, and he returns to Jesus to give him thanks. In the terms of the Epistle, he is among “the elect,” those who “obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” This one in ten is the mature one, like Naaman, who associates his return to health with God’s presence and activity in his life.
The other nine have something to learn. They need to learn that their physical healing has a spiritual dimension. They have been restored to health, but they are unaware that a loving and merciful God enables them to be healthy. When they learn to give God the glory, they will be whole. Then they will be fully mature and fully human. They will have learned to give God the glory in all things. Then they will be what God made them to be.
 II Kings 5:15.
 Saint Luke 17:17.
 II Timothy 2:10.