Ten were healed, one returns to say thank you. Jesus is astonished: Where are the other nine? Those nine were Jewish nationals, local people, the grateful one was an immigrant from Samaria, a stranger. He wants to thank Jesus, who then says to him: Your faith has saved you. - What faith? How can we describe his faith? He had heard of Jesus as a great healer, and now he puts his trust in him, goes to him, to be close to him. He wanted to be with him.
Since the very beginning of the Church, this formula 'Being with him' expressed what we today mean by having faith. Look at the second reading, Paul writing to Timothy. There we encounter a few lines that sound like a poem, Paul adds 'This saying is trustworthy', it sounds like verses of a hymn that Timothy is presumed to be familiar with.
If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. With him, that is the rule of life. With him, also in the bad days, also in times of persecution, in hardship and trouble. The first Christians faced strong headwind. They needed to strengthen one another: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. So they reminded themselves: “Yes, the Lord had to suffer, he died, yet did not disappear, he lives with us as the Risen Lord. His situation was more difficult and more painful than ours; but did not overcome him, Jesus was raised from the dead, returned to life in glory, and according to his promise, those who are with him will also proceed to life with him.” For Jesus had promised: Where I am you too shall be. A saying that is trustworthy, for us as well. We are never lost and alone, we are on the road with Jesus, and then all shall be well. This is Christian faith, beautifully expressed in this hymn: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him.
To be with him for a day or two, for a year, may be easy. However, remaining faithful to him through all the ups and downs of a life time is another story. Therefore the hymn continues:
If we persevere, we shall also reign with him. We are called to be with him definitely, at all times. Perseverance in our faith has to mark our behaviour. Perseverance instead of butterflying, this steady staying with him, will lead to the kingdom of heaven: If we persevere, we shall also reign with him.
We know from experience: Moving to and fro, saying first Yes and later No, such fickleness undermines any friendship; makes being with the other impossible. It ruins, denies the bond. The ancient Christians were aware of broken fidelity; it can happen. Their hymn continues: But if we deny him, he will deny us. If we say No to him, set his teaching and guidance aside, the with him ceases. Separation follows. Obviously, still it is not the full truth. Though it is plain logic, it is nevertheless not quite correct.
Therefore, after these frightening words he will deny us, the hymn adds a further line which we cannot repeat often enough. We must never forget: If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful. We are greatly comforted by this abundance of God's mercy and patience. For all of us have to admit that, time and again, we fail to follow Jesus' instructions with utmost fidelity in our everyday life. We are unfaithful, but He remains faithful. Hence there always remains a chance to amend what was done. We can do penance, we can say I am sorry, and look for pardon. And pardon will be granted.
Paul tells Timothy, with the words of the hymn: “Keep courage and trust Jesus”. He remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. He came and lived and died and rose again for our sakes. He will always be for us, and he wants us to be with him forever.
In the gospel, the scene of the ten lepers confirms this truth. In their very real trouble, they call to Jesus Master! have pity on us. And their call brings them back to a normal life. No doubt, they all had plenty of reason to be grateful, although only one returned to say thanks. Today in this Eucharist we should join this stranger and thank the Lord for his fidelity to us, that is, for his incredible patience with us. He remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
Let us be thankful for this consoling assurance. The message of today's liturgy should strengthen and encourage us, make us joyful. It should help us to celebrate the mass in a spirit of gratitude, making it truly our Eucharist (which means Thanksgiving). Amen.
Fr. Dietmar Lenfers MAfr