St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

On the Sunday of the Ten Lepers

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 16, 2011

Luke 17:12-19 (12th Sunday of Luke)

At that time, as Jesus entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." When Jesus saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" And Jesus said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."

On the Feast of Theophany we celebrated the revelation of God as Trinity when Jesus the Son of God was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended visibly, and the Father spoke the immortal words, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

On the Sunday After Theophany we heard the prophet's proclamation concerning the Gentiles who sat in darkness “seeing a great light”. This light, the light of God's effulgent splendor, could not be contained behind Judaic and ethnic walls. It cannot be boxed or captured or owned or controlled by anyone or anything. No one possesses the light. The light enfolds us and all of creation. It is a gift with a will of its own. Today we see the prophecy fulfilled in this story of the healing of the ten lepers.

The light shines wherever it wills, the wind blows wherever it wills, the rain falls on whomever it wills. All these images from Holy Scripture speak of the truth mentioned by St. James in his Letter that God is no respecter of persons. He loves everyone the same, believers and non-believers, rich and poor, young and old, female and male.

Do you doubt that this is the Orthodox position? Listen to Archbishop Anastasios of Albania:

“Everything comes down to our relationship with the Triune God – the God of love. All is based on love and freedom. On the unconditional love of God, and the freedom we have to respond to that love with love. Love to all people, whether they are non-Christians and non-believers. Respect for all. Love for all. Witness to this truth of love. This is what our faith is about. This is true Orthodoxy.” (Archbishop Anastasios)

We speak in the Baptism service of “the light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world.”

Jesus was continually criticized for going where he was not supposed to go, being with those he was not supposed to be with, doing his good works in ways that offended the righteous. The religious want to tell God what to do. The faithful listen to Him and follow wherever He leads.

When we pray, what is it that we are trying to do? Are we trying to change the mind of God? Prayer is not meant to change God's mind, it is meant to change ours! God does not need to change. We do.

Today we see the Light Himself walking through a village. Ten lepers meet him crying out for mercy, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” There it is! The Jesus Prayer in Scripture! The perfect prayer second only to silence. And he healed them because that is what God does and that is who God is.

One of these ten was even worse off than the others. He was not only sick, He was a Samaritan. Even before he contracted leprosy, he was, to the Jews, unclean. Already a social leper. Samaritans in the New Testament represent all the despised people in every time and every culture. They represent the people you and I despise and reject. It is obvious that these scriptures are meant to wake us up to our own infidelity and unrighteousness revealed as we attempt to justify our hatred of others.

The Samaritan returned to thank Jesus for his healing. The others did not. Therefore, the prophecy is confirmed. It comes to pass in our hearing. The Light shines even in the darkest places. Particularly in the darkest places! No place and no one is exempt. No one is despised! No one is rejected! Even the nine ungrateful lepers received healing, but only the one was enlightened. “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What does this mean “to be called”. It means rather that not everyone is able to respond to the light positively, that is, to return love with love. Only the one out of the ten was able to return love with love.

It is like this. If you go to clean out your goldfish bowl and place your goldfish in a bathtub of water, a strange thing happens. The goldfish will not respond well to the change. Even with all the space given to them, they will remain clumped together conditioned as they are to remaining in a small bowl. They are uncomfortable with stretching out beyond the limits normally imposed, but the problem lie not on the space, but in their inflexibility and conditioning. Nine of the lepers could not stretch out, only the Samaritan could. We are the same.

God has given us his image in creation, restored it through his incarnation, shed light in the dark places of the heart, removed the walls of the prison of sin and death, and placed us in his heavenly kingdom, but we remain paralyzed, unable to be free. unable to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors without limits . Unless we do the uncomfortable work of stretching out beyond our self-imposed limits (for they are all now “self-imposed”) by daring to live in a way that recognizes the truth of the freedom granted to us, then we will remain in a little space, living in little ways that constrict and confine, inflicting pain on ourselves and others because we refuse to see and refuse to grow into this new reality. The freedom granted is the freedom to love and to be loved without limits.

The spiritual life is all about shedding dead skin like snakes and locusts and growing beyond our limits into the likeness to God. If it is authentic, our spiritual practice will change how we think, perceive reality, and respond to it. The grace of God wedded with our sincere efforts will reveal to us that the space we now live in is infinite.

But there is another most mysterious and beautiful thing if you able able to accept it. If you have clarity of vision and become still and quiet enough to experience life as it really is, shot through with Divine Light, the truth will dawn that the Light makes even the darkness glisten.