The leper in today’s Gospel recognizes in Jesus the power to make him clean, but he is not demanding, arrogant, or controlling. He approaches the Lord in humility, kneeling down and begging. He surrenders himself, placing himself totally at the disposition of Jesus: “If you wish….” Seeing the leper carry his terrible illness with such humility and trust, Jesus is “moved with pity” for him. While he wanted to heal the leper from the start, the man’s prayer of humble submission, imbued with unwavering faith, revealed an inner disposition of readiness to benefit from the Lord’s healing touch. Jesus expresses his will and touches the man, who is immediately healed, “made clean.” This is exactly what happens to us when we come with contrite hearts to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through the ministry of the priest, he expresses his willingness to forgive us, and he touches us with the healing power of his grace.
We learn from the example of this leper the proper disposition with which we are to approach the Lord. Most of us, when we find ourselves heavily burdened by sickness or suffering, start off wrongly. We may kneel, if that is our habitual prayer posture, but then we begin to bombard Jesus with countless words of petition – indeed, demanding the relief we want. We act as if we are in front of a vending machine; if we want to receive more, we must simply drop in more coins. Sometimes we pray childishly, selfishly seeking satisfaction, moved solely by our need to be comforted, consoled, relieved from pain – sometimes almost yelling angrily at God, giving in to an attitude of hopelessness which makes our pain even more unbearable. Prayer is not about demanding from God what we want but rather seeking the good that he wills for us, as he sees best. We learn this from the leper, who, even before he has received any favor from Jesus, is humble and selfless, courageous and determined, and quietly ready for anything which Jesus may demand from him.
We can also learn a lesson from Christ Jesus about how to relate to the sick, that is, with great compassion. This is part of the reason for the World Day of the Sick, instituted by St. John Paul II in 1992 and first celebrated at Lourdes, France, on February 11, 1993. This is a day of hope and renewal for all who are suffering any kind of illness, physical or psychological. It is a day for us to deepen our sense of responsibility for the care of the sick. Each person, regardless of his or her condition, is a precious gift from God. We join the mission of the Church to value, protect, and serve our brothers and sisters who are sick.
Loving service of the sick is included in our missionary responsibility, as described by St. Paul in today’s second reading. He urges us to “do everything for the glory of God,” thereby mirroring the life of Christ himself. As we imitate Paul who imitates Christ, we strive for an exemplary life of selfless love and compassion for all people, for in loving them, we love the Lord. In loving them, we do as he does.
How do the faith and humility of the man with leprosy encourage me to act likewise? When I approach the Lord in prayer, do I demand from him, or do I humbly wait for his will to be manifested? In my prayers, do I include praying for others or just for myself? Why?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 20, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.