Divine Initiative and Human Response

Proper 23, 9 October 2022

Luke 17:11-19

We gather together in the presence of almighty God to hear what He is speaking to each of us; we invite the Holy Spirit to move in our midst with His gifts; and we have a wonderful opportunity to touch and seek Christ in our hearts in the Eucharist.  Particularly in this time, with all that is happening around us, it brings us closer to God, who is nearer to us than we can imagine.

Trust in the God of mercy

Lepers are often mentioned in the Bible, but there’s something very important in today’s Gospel, where there are many topics to consider: 

  • God’s power heals
  • He hears us when we appeal to His mercy 
  • More than anything, He calls us to trust in Him  

Jesus was travelling to Jerusalem; we’re not told exactly where this happened, but it was a village.  Afar off were lepers shouting; they could not be part of the community.[i]  As they came closer, they cried with a loud voice, 

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

God’s mercy is one of His qualities in showing compassion to undeserving sinners.  Some of Jesus’ other healings suggest that He could have gone to them and touched them – He was not afraid of being contaminated.  When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, its waters did not cleanse Him, but He made the waters clean.  

In response, Jesus did not heal them immediately, or even promise to heal them, but gave them an instruction: 

“Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

According to Patrick Reardon, the burden of this command is not simply to extract obedience or submission – He was calling them to trust Him.  He was telling them, “You called Me Master and Lord; show Me that you trust Me.”  As our Patriarch says, when Jesus tells us to give God something, we complain; many times, we say, “Jesus, I give you everything”, but when He asks us for something, we say, “I cannot give that to You”.  

Leprosy rendered a person ritually impure; they could not participate in worship.  They had to go to a priest who would pronounce if the person was clean.[ii]  Those in the Gospel obeyed Jesus: they were on their way to the priest.  Then one noticed that he was healed.  With a loud voice he glorified God and fell down at Jesus’ feet.  The other nine went on to the priest, and the one who returned to Him was a Samaritan. 

Jesus does not reprimand this person for going to Him instead of the priest; instead, He commends this Samaritan, and asks, 

“Where are the other nine?  Why is it this foreigner who has come back to give thanks?”  

Then Jesus says, 

“Go your way; your faith has made you well”.  

In other words, “Not only have you received healing, but salvation.”

We easily forget

We have gone through a pandemic, and many of us were confined in our homes; health systems were overwhelmed, and the economy stopped.  Today we can say, “Thank God it’s over”, and everyone is eager to move on; sooner or later, we will have forgotten.  We easily forget.  

A woman asked me to lend her €600.  My policy is not to lend money: it can be very complicated.  I told her I could give her €400; she would have nothing to repay.  To my surprise, she asked me, “Why only €400 and not €600?”  As a human being, I have difficulty forgetting bad things people have done to me, but I quickly forget the good things people have done.  Saint Paul said, 

“I do what I don’t want to do, and what I want to do I don’t do”.[iii]

In the book of Exodus, the Hebrew people, enslaved in Egypt, cried out for help to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God delivered them from slavery, opened the Red Sea, and displayed His divine power; they crossed on dry ground.  Only two months afterwards, they forgot God, fashioned a golden calf with their own hands, and said, “This is the god that brought us out of Egypt”. Jewish commentator Dennis Prager said we think that if we witness a miracle, we will believe in God forever; but in the story of the Israelites this is not true: the witness of a miracle runs out quickly, and sooner or later we ask God, “Can you do another miracle?” or, “What have you done for me lately?”  The Old Testament emphasizes that the Jews remember the Exodus experience by celebrating the Passover annually, otherwise they will easily forget what God did for them.  It’s easy to forget and hard to remember.

We gather to remember

We gather together on Sundays to remember.  The word “remember” brings to mind losing our keys and trying to remember where we put them; but we hear in the Eucharistic Prayer, 

“Do this in remembrance of Me”.  

Beyond a mental recalling, the Bible tells us something very specific: We remember by doingsomething.  It’s not only a mental activity – we need to do something so that we will never forget what Christ has done on the cross.  If we stop coming together to worship Him – and at the very centre of worship is the Eucharist – one day the death of Christ will be history, and many of us will have forgotten.  Let us not forget; that’s why we celebrate the Eucharist whenever we gather together. Beyond ritual, we remember that Christ rose from the dead, light shone forth from the grave, and His resurrection inaugurated new life and new creation.  Alexander Schmemann said the Eucharist is the Sacrament of ascension to the Kingdom of God, and a participation in the Messianic banquet in the age to come.  

The Eucharist is God’s assurance of His presence in our midst.  Some churches don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; we believe, although we don’t know how it happens.  He took bread, and He did not say, “This is bread that is given for you” – He said, 

“This is My body”,

and we simply accept what He said.  Sacramental people believe in the very presence of Christ in the Sacraments.  In this life, this is the way to touch Jesus, and to receive Christ in your life: in the Eucharist.  Every Sunday we have the opportunity to touch Him; and when we do, may God heal us of any sickness.  Let us not forget that every Sunday is a “mini Easter”.

In the Easter Vigil every year, the deacon says:

“It is truly right and good, always and everywhere, with our whole heart and mind to praise You, the invisible, almighty, and eternal God, and Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; for He is the true Paschal Lamb, who at the feast of the Passover paid for us the debt of Adam’s sin, and by His blood delivered your faithful people.

This is the night, when You brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is Your mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, You gave a Son.

How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”

We do not come simply because we obey God, but because we want to meet God, and God wants to meet with us; and we’re mandated to remember what Christ has done on the cross.  We don’t leave after the Mass and say we’ve done our religious activity for the day, and then wait for the next Sunday – there’s something very important: that we remember the cross of Christ and His resurrection; that we have received mercy; that we were healed of our sins, or human disease; and that like the leper, He gave us salvation.  The event of the cross did not happen in the past as part of history which we read on paper, but it brought life and transformation because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  

The impact of Christ’s death and resurrection has cosmic proportions, beyond what we can imagine.  That’s why we can change people’s lives.  We do not only eat and touch a piece of bread – we receive life, which is the medicine for death; that’s what happens when we gather together.  The world has changed, but not because of man’s doing – it’s because of what Christ has done on the cross.  What happened two thousand years ago continues to have power and changes people’s lives today, because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The cross will never go away, but for those who believe, its power will continue to intensify and transform our lives. 

Today we are like lepers; we cry out to God for mercy.  But beyond that, after we have received mercy, we need to shout and rejoice in thanksgiving, because what God has given us is something we never deserve.  Why would God give His Son for a slave?

God loves you

When you wake up in the morning, and whenever you worship God, the enemy is not only afraid of you, but also very jealous of you.  When he sinned, he was sent out of God’s presence, and he will go to hell.  When humans sinned, God gave His Son for our redemption.  God did not give His Son for the redemption of Lucifer, but for your redemption.  The enemy is very jealous because of God’s love for you.  

If you ever feel sorry for yourself because you feel that no one loves you, never forget that God loves you and will always love you.  We don’t have any reason to be sad or depressed: if the world doesn’t love us, God loves us beyond measure.  How can we reciprocate that love, to thank Him for what he has done for us?  That is the human response.  God took the divine initiative: He already drew near to us through the cross, to be one of us; now we have to draw closer to Him – against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  We need people’s love, but we need God’s love more than anything.  We have the assurance that God loves us and He gave His life for us, so we give our lives to Him in worship, adoration, and service.

Let us be thankful

Venice experienced a pandemic in the seventeenth century, and many people died.  Afterwards they built a church called Santa Maria della Salute, a memorial to thank God.  In Madrid we’re planning to buy a property; it’s a large amount of money which will require a miracle from God.  But like Salute, it will be a memorial for generations to come, to remember that the world went through a pandemic but God never left us.  We should celebrate this every Sunday.  Although we are saddened by people dying, because of God’s love they may be closer to Him than we are: they see God’s glory and are in His presence.  Let us give thanks that God never forsakes us.  As we’ve heard about and received God’s love, we need to go and share His love with others.  God will give you an opportunity to tell someone He loves them; you might meet them anywhere.  We are not only to receive, but also to give what we receive from God.  May we be like Salute, a church that will always thank God for His goodness and greatness.

Study questions:

  1. Have you given your life to Jesus completely, or only in part?  Is there anything in your life that you would not yet be willing to give to Him – and if so, why?  What could help you change?
  2. Are there areas of your life in which you do not trust God enough to obey Him?  What could help you change?
  3. How quickly do you forget the good things God has done for you?  Do you find it easier to remember something good or something bad that someone else has done?
  4. What did Christ do for you in His death and resurrection?  What does it mean to you?  Is it worth celebrating?
  5. What happens when you receive the Eucharist?  Do you touch Christ in the Eucharist and encounter Him in a personal way? 
  6. Have you experienced personal transformation through what Christ has done?  Has His death and resurrection faded into the past, or is it still changing you and becoming more real to you?  
  7. Do you have a personal assurance that God loves you?  Do you feel privileged to be loved by Him?  How do you thank Him?

[i] Leviticus 13:45-46

[ii] Leviticus 14:1-7

[iii] Romans 7:15, 19

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