A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. (Lk 17:11-19)
Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”
“The Gospel of the Lord”
In Luke’s gospel, we start with ten men who have the worst disease of their day.
The physical ramifications are horrendous.
Leprosy attacks the body, leaving sores, missing fingers, missing toes, damaged limbs.
In many cases, the initial pain of leprosy gives way to something more terrible than that - a loss of sensation in nerve endings, leading to more damage to more body parts.
The disease can take 30 years to run its course, and in that time span, entire limbs can simply fall off. It is, assuredly, a most horrible disease.
We have nearly an impossible task in trying to fathom what it was like 2,000 years ago when medical treatment as we know it today was almost non-existent.
I recalled reading in a book a few years back while being on a pilgrimage, a Christian woman was near a modern-day leper colony.
Something within her had always wanted to minister in a leper colony and her trip overseas had given her the first opportunity to be near such a place.
She walked by the entrance three times.
She saw those who were suffering.
She begged herself for a chance to go inside. But she could not.
The reason? The smell overwhelmed her.
She could not work up the stomach to go inside the colony.
She could not bear the thought of missing the opportunity to personally serve the Lord and the Lepers, but at the same time becoming violently ill at what she was faced with seemed to be too much.
The trip passed, and she was not able to go inside.
And, I think, we gained a new appreciation of how bad this disease must have been in the days of Christ.
It wasn't just the grotesque damage, or the attack to our sight.
It wasn't just the loud cries, the attack to our hearing.
It was also the smell of rotting, decaying flesh, overwhelming even our sense of smell.
The emotional pain of a leper, however, must have been even worse than the physical pain.
He was removed from his family, from his community.
There could be no contact, whatsoever, with his children or grandchildren.
None. Immediately removed. His wife would not be allowed to kiss him goodbye.
He would not have allowed it anyway, for fear that she, too, would become afflicted.
Lepers tended to roam together, looking for food, begging for assistance from a great distance, learning to yell in loud voices, both from the need to warn others, and to beg for help from across the way.
What would it have been like to have been removed from friends and family for a lifetime, and to have been forced to announce that removal on a daily basis? It must have been horrible.
And yet, in this account, ten men encounter Jesus, and hear him say the most unusual thing.
"We want to be well!" they scream at Jesus.
And the great teacher responds, "Go and show yourselves to the priests."
The local priest had duties other than leading the worship on each Sabbath.
He was also something of a health official.
If a person was miraculously healed of leprosy, it was up to the priest to inspect the body, to test for a complete removal of the disease, and to announce the person healed.
In such cases, the person would have been cleansed, and at that point, it would be fine for the leper to see his wife again, to hold his daughter again, to look for work again.
If the priest gave him the OK, he would be healed!
Now, Jesus says to these lepers, "Go and show yourselves to the priests."
They look down at their bodies.
The hands of one man are still mangled.
Another man looks at his leg, which ends with a filthy rag at the knee.
Another looks at his skin, and finds it as repulsive as ever.
In other words, all of these men were no better off than they had been ten minutes earlier, when they had first spotted the famous teacher.
And yet, they headed off in search of the priests.
And on their way, they were healed.
On their way, a hand reappeared and tingled with life.
A crutch tripped on a filthy rag, as it fell to the ground.
The leg was back, healthy, whole, complete.
The skin cleared, and the tiny hairs on a forearm turned from snow white to a healthy brown.
One looked at the other, another looked at the rest, and the screaming started.
The smiles broke into cheering and a sweet madness.
They raced off in the distance, not believing that the nightmare was finally over.
But in order for the miracle to happen, these men had to start walking in faith before their circumstances had changed one tiny bit.
Is there a more potent lesson for us, on this Thanksgiving Day?
We cannot wait until the problems are over to start walking in faith.
We cannot put conditions on our holy God.
We cannot say, "Lord, as soon as there's enough money, I will follow your instructions."
We cannot pray, "Lord, if you'll just solve this issue in my family, I'll start going to church regularly."
We cannot put conditions on God!
Instead, God places a demand for faith on us, before anything at all has changed.
God might say, "Love me despite the disease.
Obey me despite the lack of talent, or the lack of resources.
Follow me now, despite the depression.
Say no to the temptation, while it still is difficult.
Praise me in the darkest of nights, and in the worst of circumstances."
This is the nature of God, a God who loves us so much.
He gives us the opportunity to be thankful when nothing about our circumstances gives us motivation.
My friends, that is the very definition of faith.
If we praised God only on the good days, only in the best of circumstances, it would not be faith at all.
That would be more like a business arrangement - and this is not about business!
Some of you might be in horrible circumstances, right now.
This year has been one of the most difficult years for so many of us.
With the COVID pandemic and all its effects, it has created so much turmoil; financial, emotional, a sense of overwhelming fear and anxiety.
Many have lost jobs, and lost their homes.
For many of us, our lives have been permanently affected and the way of life we had known and were comfortable with is no longer in sight.
Yet, we are Catholic, we are to believe. We are to have faith.
We are to know that God’s ways are not our ways and that He uses everything to create a greater good and to give an opportunity for us to grow in virtue, especially trust, love, patience, perseverance, forgiveness, and hope.
So, the question on this Day of Thanksgiving is:
Will we be thankful despite the difficult circumstances?
Will we, like the Lepers, believe and have faith in the promises of Christ?
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