A Community of Love
Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year. Fr Edward Booth sees in the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan leper the hope of a new kind of human society.
It was not the dispositions of the Samaritan leper alone which led to his expressing his reverence for Our Lord and his gratitude for his loss of leprosy. It lay rather in the deep encounter between Jesus and the leper.
A real contact, of soul to soul and person to person, was always possible with Jesus because he acted, moved and spoke with great freedom. It is the absence of those qualities in us which can make our personal relationships difficult. We become clogged down, with hardly a place from where we can begin to try to start again. But there were dimensions in the character of the Samaritan leper which the others did not have.
Our Lord did not give these lepers immediately their healing and their time to express their relief. The healing and the expression came as they went along. They all had the faith to take Jesus’s instruction seriously and went to the priests, which probably meant going to Jerusalem itself. The Law of Moses extended into all matters of religious purity and impurity.
Leprosy was and remains contagious, and that contagion was looked upon as an expression of unfitness to present oneself to take part in the collective worship. The priests rather than the doctors were designated to declare a man pure from leprosy. In itself restoration to a healthy state was regarded as an expression of divine mercy.
So a formula of words was not enough for the Samaritan former leper to express his gratitude. Firstly he raised his voice in praise, and that seems to have lasted for a long time — probably the whole distance back to where he had left Jesus. His soul was deeply stirred, and he could in no other way express his relief. And he threw himself on the ground before Jesus as an expression of worship, because he had detected a divine power at work in his healing.
As he looked into his own soul he saw with the profoundest relief that the weight of the leprosy had gone, and the weight of separation from his fellow men had gone. He had become normal. In no other way could it have taken place than this, with the divine power which the Teacher could summon up so quickly and effectively. The socially deprived are always grateful for the gifts they receive — but for their healing, rather than money.
For sensitivity calls out sensitivity in the other for a service done, no matter how slight. It could so easily not be there, not become present. Our Lord did not demand it. In fact it occurs in a minority of cases of sickness brought to his attention with the request for healing.
Where there is a society brought into being by charity, and characterised by the practice of charity between its members, the possibilities for a higher mode of human living are so much greater. There is compassion for affliction of every kind. Something of that is present even when such reciprocal relations have not begun, even where help is regarded only as a right one can claim, not an expression of goodness. Those who handle the sick have to forget themselves consciously. One can tell in a few seconds whether they are being motivated by duty alone or whether there is an expression of human sympathy. The soul knows instinctively whether it is being regarded as a ‘case’, a test-case of human virtue, or in an expression of the recognition of the seeds of growth of a humanity basically like one’s own, of another oneself.
In that setting the expression of thanksgiving finds no hindrances for a service done, and not only in healing. If it is so, then there is a perception of the characteristic of goodness in itself, which always seeks to extend itself.
When the social structure is networked with procedures for social aid, which can be called upon without hesitation, it shows itself to have developed a high social sense. Then there will be no need for “complaints procedures” and “committees of enquiry” of all sorts. For charity has come to birth in that society, and in its social living. Then the coping stone for it all will be the perception that God is love, a belief in which we must have no fear and no doubt.
The only sadness is when this sense does not rise to express itself when it is so evidently appropriate, as with the other nine lepers — who may have been somewhat embarrassed by what they could have thought to be an excessive expression of thankfulness from their Samaritan member.