How often do we get a second chance? In our human frailty, we often make mistakes and must depend on the forgiving nature of another to allow us to try again. It takes great humility first to admit we are wrong and secondly to ask for forgiveness. Without that forgiveness, we cause separation and possibly even death in the relationship with the who suffered because of our mistakes.
The first reading from Second Kings and the Gospel today references the disease of leprosy, which was equivalent to societal death in the community. Because of the possibility of spreading leprosy from one person to another, lepers were forbidden to come in contact with the rest of the population. Society considered those with an apparent disease, and especially leprosy, to be suffering from God’s wrath for a sinful life. Leprosy, a particularly dreadful disease exhibiting symptoms of scaly skin lesions, the loss of fingers and toes, and facial disfigurations, spoke to the community that those experiencing God’s punishment from this appalling disease indicated the horrendous nature of their sin. Thus the separation from lepers was necessary for the physical and spiritual well-being of the community.
In the first reading, Elisha cures the leper, Naaman, who is a pagan military officer in the enemy’s army, through ritual cleansing in the River Jordon. Naaman attempts to provide a gift to Elisha for his curing power, which Elisha refuses since it is the Lord who must be praised. In his return to health, the non-Jew, Naaman, is converted. He then actually takes two mules loads of dirt with him back to his homeland so that he can worship from the sacred soil of Israel where the One True God resides. Naaman receives a second chance as he able to return to his former position in the army freed from leprosy.
A similar event occurs with Jesus and the ten lepers. The lepers, hearing of his miraculous powers, approach Jesus begging for salvation from a fate that was equivalent to death. For the ten, no family member could come near. Never again would the leper receive a kiss from his wife. He would never be able to hold his child. The leper, living alongside a road, received only scraps for food thrown toward him from a distance. His clothes were a heap of rags that had no other use. Without adequate food, shelter, clothing, or contact with family, the leper was a dead man waiting to die.
Jesus cures the ten from their disease, enabling them to re-enter their communities. Because they express their faith that Jesus could perform miracles, Jesus took away their leprosy. Jesus required the priests to inspect the ten, thereby forcing the religious elders to admit that he has done what only God can do, free the ten from their disease and their sins. Even after experience this gift from God, only one, a Samaritan, an enemy of the Jews, returns to thank Jesus for the second chance on life.
What of us? Have our sins caused us to acquire symptoms of a spiritual leper? Do our evident sins cause others to shy away from us? Do we feel isolation from God, family, and friends? Has the sloughing off our sinful acts infected the purity of those we hold most dear? Has the disfigurement of our spirit caused us to be unrecognizable in the eyes of the Lord?
Our sinful ways can be just as damaging to us as the disease of leprosy. In our sin, we become like the ten lepers, the dead waiting to die. It now that we need to turn to the Lord, asking for another chance to change our ways.
Jesus, knowing of the sins of the human beings, did not relegate us to hell when our leprous transgressions distorted our spirit. Instead, he came to earth, took on all of our sins, whether a believer or not, died on the Cross, and was resurrected to new life. His Death and Resurrection gave us a second chance in life. Jesus shows us another way life, a life of purity and goodness that is found in freedom from sin.
However, because of our exposure to sin, it continues to infect us; Jesus gives us more than a second chance. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we can be cured over and over again of our spiritual diseases that plague our capacity to live as a child of God. In the depth of his love, Jesus can forgive any sin, if we approach him in faith as ten lepers did, asking for a miracle.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a miracle for us. We come before the Lord, recognizing that we have abused our relationship with him. Our actions have isolated us from his graces. We have sought independence from our saving Lord and fallen victim to the devil’s disease-ridden ways. There is only one way to become clean again by seeking out Jesus and beg for his mercy. In humility and pain, we appear before Jesus asking for a miracle that only he can provide, to begin life again, to get another chance to be free from the disfigurement of sin.
In gratitude, Naaman swore allegiance to the God of Israel, even though he was a pagan. In gratitude, one of the cured men returns to Jesus, prostrating himself before Jesus, even though he was a Samaritan. Naaman carries home soil from along the Jordan so that he might stand on the sacred ground of Israel to worship God. The cleansed Samaritan returns to thank Jesus even before he has been designated as clean by the priests. Both of these men were saved because of their conversion of faith.
How will we show gratitude to the Lord for the forgiveness of sins? How do we respond to demonstrate our faith is in the saving power of Jesus? On what sacred ground will we stand on to pray to God? Where will we bow down before the presence of Jesus? Jesus came into the world to give us a second chance. How will we change our lives to demonstrate our gratitude?
Deacon Dan Gilbert