3 Kgs 5:14-17
Ps 98 1-4
2 Tm 2:8-13
The first reading and the Gospel both turn on the disease leprosy as it was understood in the Ancient Near East. It is critical to remember that when it is mentioned in any biblical readings leprosy does not mean the chronic disfiguring infectious disease known today as Hansen’s disease. While Hansen’s may have been in the population during Jesus’ time, it did not exist during more ancient times, such as that in which the first reading is set some six centuries before Jesus' birth. In addition, the descriptions of leprosy in the Old Testament, are inconsistent with Hansen’s disease as described in Harrison’s Textbook of Internal Medicine, the standard textbook of medicine in the U.S. Walls, clothing, and other inanimate objects could also be considered leprous if they had a certain appearance.
Leprosy comes from the Greek root LEPI that means scales of a fish. Thus, psoriasis, with its characteristic scaling lesion, would have been called leprosy, along with many other diseases that are not related and are not infectious. Infectious is the key word. The fear of leprosy was the fear of contagion, the fear of transmission of disease. That contagion, several millennia before antibiotics and so on, was a threat to the ongoing life of the community. Much of the fear was related to a different understanding of illness then compared with our understanding today.
We understand living and disease as part of an unbroken line. That line is interrupted only by death. One may be ill but one is still living until the moment of death. In the Ancient Near East disease was understood as a “mild form of death” or “a living death.” The break, the radical interruption, was not between life and death but between health and illness. Lepers were thought to be losing life’s vital force from their bodies. Lepers were seen as the living dead, as already inhabiting sheol.
Adding to the stigma was that, like other illnesses in the Ancient Near East, leprosy was understood as punishment for sin. It was visible evidence that the afflicted was a sinner. The lepers who approached Jesus were suffering from social exclusion. They asked Jesus for compassion and healing. In his compassion for their suffering, for their isolation from society, and their alienation from themselves, Jesus healed them of the visible cause of their suffering. He removed the "leprosy" that visibly marked them as sinners. Jesus returned them to society and gave them back to themselves.
Jesus did the same for us. He continues to do the same for us. Jesus took upon himself the burden of our sin. By his obedience to the will of the Father, he freed us from sin and death. In the sacrament of confession he offers us the opportunity to be made clean again and again, as often as we may need to be cleansed of the internal marks of leprosy. And thus He returns us to the right relationship with God and with ourselves. The readings and the Gospel also highlight the interdependence of gift and thanksgiving.
The story of Naaman in the first reading began with verse fourteen, in which he descended into the water of the Jordan seven times and emerged healed of his lesions. We didn't hear the important verses that come immediately before this. In those verses, Naaman was told by the Elisha's messenger, not the Prophet Elisha himself, to bathe in the water of the Jordan seven times. Then we read, "But Naaman was angered and walked away. He said, 'I thought he would surely come out to me and would stand and invoke the Lord his God by name and would wave his hand toward the spot and cure the affected part.'" Naaman continued to rage until a servant asked, "if the prophet told you to do something difficult, would you not do it?" The servant then pointed out that the prophet had suggested something easy. Logic triumphed over fury. Naaman's gratitude was total, immediate, and sincere.
The gospel adds a twist. Only one of the ten lepers Jesus healed returned to express his gratitude. Only one gave thanks when he realized that he had been healed. The response of the other nine lepers is an important point. It highlights the unfortunate disconnection between faith, gift, and thanksgiving that characterizes most people at least some of the time. The ten lepers obviously had faith in Jesus. Otherwise, they would not have set out to present themselves to the priests. But only one, a Samaritan, a foreigner, returned to give thanks.
Faith cannot exist, it cannot grow, without thanksgiving. Faith needs to be nurtured with prayer, the Eucharist, and meditation upon scripture. Prayer is not just for petition in times of trouble. Prayer is thanksgiving. It is conversation between us and God that expresses our gratitude for what God has done, for what He is doing, and for what He will do for us, even if we don't understand it at the moment. The psalm explains it all. First, the psalmist instructs us in the way of faith when he sings:
"All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God."
And then he tells us how to express our gratitude:
"Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands,
Break into song; sing praise."
Went to Maribor last Sunday for a concert that included several pieces sung by Father Damjan Ristič. Damjan possesses a rich baritone voice that he used beautifully. The other performers on the program were a French horn quartet. They played beautifully. I never realized a French horn could play such low notes.
This morning I wandered down to the market place and the Franciscan Church around 7:30 AM. It was fascinating to watch the market coming to life. I can't imagine setting up and taking down my wares every single day.
A French horn on a chair before the concert
There was a reception afterwards. Students were setting out the glasses and food well before the concert began.
Reflections in the river.
Ljubljana Castle dominates the view from many areas of the city.
A detail of stucco, a lamp, and red flowers.
A tour boat on the river. This was from Friday midday rather than early Saturday AM.
Chairs locked up for overnight. The outdoor cafes were very active as staff set out tables and chairs.
A coffee shop overlooking the river.
Salty snacks including pizza.
A merchant working in the colonnade carrying good to his area.