Sunday, Oct. 13, is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C, Cycle I).
2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98:1-4; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19
Today is not officially "Leper Sunday" in the Church, but it might as well be.
In the first reading, we hear about King Naaman, the leper who was cleansed by Elisha after the prophet directed him to jump in the Jordan River. In the second reading, we hear the story of Jesus curing 10 lepers — and only one coming back to thank him.
The reason it isn’t Leper Sunday is that the stories are not really about leprosy at all. They are about baptism and what it does for us — though, here, we see only a prefigurement of the sacrament. Let’s look at the lessons these stories teach.
Baptism restores our youth and innocence. We know what leprosy means in the biblical world. Leprosy — or "Tzaraath," a name covering a number of degenerative skin diseases — had moral implications. Lepers were unclean. Since Jews, like Christians, believed that the soul and body were one, this disfiguring condition was a literal representation of sin.
Sin corrupts all it touches. The real you is St. You, but sin turns you away from saintliness.
When Naaman dips in the Jordan River, the water restores his youth and innocence. Says the reading, "His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child."
Baptism — and its renewal in confession — restores the real you again, the you who has a clean slate.
Baptism ultimately depends on our follow-up. Just as youth is not an end, but a beginning, so it is with baptism or confession. Naaman’s cleansing is not just the end of his disease — it is the beginning of his relationship with God. It is what he does with his new life that matters: He pledges to honor the God of Israel.
In the same way, in the Gospel, the curing of 10 lepers is not the end, but the beginning, of the story. It is followed immediately by Jesus’ request that they show themselves to the priest. Their cure should lead them back to God.
But then only one returns. "Ten were cleansed, were they not?" asks Jesus. "Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"
Jesus gives this one former leper the greatest gift of all. He is not just cured of an earthly disease, but receives eternal salvation. "Your faith has saved you," says Jesus.
It is the same with each of us at our baptism: God’s free gift is the beginning of our relationship with God. What we do with it is crucially important. Whether or not we receive the gift with gratitude and return to Jesus determines whether it is a fleeting moment of grace or a new way of life.
"If we deny him," says St. Paul in the second reading, "he will deny us."
Baptism brings us foreigners into God’s family. An important thread in both of these stories is that the recipients of God’s gifts were foreigners. They were not just healed of leprosy — they were brought to faith in the one true God.
We often think of ourselves as God’s natural-born family. We feel like natives in God’s country. But we are not.
We belong to a land that is owned and operated by enemies of God. The world, the flesh and the devil want to rule our lives. We are foreigners who God needs to reach out to. And he does.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.