Reflection on The Ten Lepers by Mgr. Paul Watson

The Ten Lepers

Luke 17: 11-19

After the ten lepers had asked Jesus for mercy, he sent them ahead of him, presumably to Jerusalem, saying: “go and show yourselves to the priests”. It seems a little strange to us, but when a leper had recovery from his or her leprosy, it had to be validated by the priests. Not something we would normally expect a priest to do. Why not send them to a doctor? Part of the answer lies in the fact that one of the principal restrictions on a leper was that they were not permitted to take part in the public liturgy of the Jews, not least the worship of God in the Temple. Neither could they share in the prayer conducted in the Synagogues. It was a secondary matter that they also had to keep a distance from normal society. Their condition meant that they were primarily cut off from God. At least, cut off from the normal experience of the covenant relationship with God, which was typically expressed by participation in the sacrifices in the Temple, the reading and explanation of the Scriptures in the Synagogues and the weekly Sabbath prayer and meal in Jewish homes, not forgetting also the annual celebration of Passover. The role of the priests was to permit the recovered leper back into the spiritual life of God’s chosen people.

There is a lot more to the condition of the leper than immediately meets the eye. We can perhaps begin to see that their situation is an image, writ large, of the condition of the human race in general after the Fall. Excluded from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were cut off from intimacy with God and in spite of our human attempts to appease the deity through various rituals and sacrifices, the human race, including the Jewish people, had to wait for God himself to bring about a spiritual awakening for connection and intimacy with God to be restored.

We are told that the ten responded to the words of Jesus and on their way to the priests they were cleansed or healed. It seems that their willingness to follow the words of Jesus (i.e. Faith) was enough to put them in touch with the power of God to remove their ailment, the condition that had removed them from God’s presence. Yet the spiritual awakening was only truly experienced by one! Only one saw his need to continue to live in contact with God and his will. What about ourselves?

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