The Gospel Today
Friday after Epiphany
and when he saw Jesus,
he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said,
“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
And the leprosy left him immediately.
Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but
“Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing
what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”
The report about him spread all the more,
and great crowds assembled to listen to him
and to be cured of their ailments,
but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.
The Gospel today speaks of the great joy of the cleansed leper. Some would not understand why the leper spread the news about his healing despite the order of Jesus not to tell anyone what He did to him. But only those with a heart filled with gratitude could relate to what the leper did.
Last December 8, 2014 our seminary community celebrated the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at Tala Leprosarium. There I met a leper named John (not his real name), who is staying in the said institution for more than 30 years. For so long, John never had a visitor because his family abandoned him since he was admitted there. For lepers it is not only the sickness that gives them pain or more so kills them, but the reality that they were abandoned. Every day of their life they have to accept that even though they are still alive they are already treated dead by their loved ones. No one would come close to them because of the fear that they might also get incurred the illness. This is also the reason why the leper in the Gospel pleaded and prostrated upon meeting Jesus. He wanted to end his suffering even if that means falling into the ground and begging for it. It was a lowly gesture from which trust and faith overflows. His desire of being healed was not only spoken out but acted out. The leper did not explicitly tell Christ to cleanse him. But his actions implied the deepest desire of his heart. His words, “Lord, if you wish you can make me clean”, manifest his recognition that what he seek cannot be demanded but it can only be graciously given. The fact that Christ willingly cleansed him is the cause of joy of the cured leper. I guess this is where the great joy of the leper coming from. Not only in the healing itself that he received from Jesus but more so His will.
For the longest time of John’s life he is living with leprosy but I never saw or heard from him any trace of bitterness. What I heard from him are words of gratitude to God for my presence. He believed as he told me that he was sure that I was the answer to his prayer that day. That among the many lepers there, it is him whom I approached and talked with. I never did any miracle or healed him, but his recognition of my presence was already a great joy and a blessing for him. He was so thankful that someone like me did not hesitate to get close and talk to him. He even remembered that my visit feel on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which he said is the anniversary of our meeting, as he also told me that I am a gift to him from God. With that expression, I felt so special in a way that someone like me can become a gift and a blessing to someone. I wondered then, how could he be that joyful and thankful, where, for me I did not even do anything special. It is only now that I understood as I went back to what he told me that I was the answer to his prayer that day. Which only means that his gratitude and joy are not based on material or physical blessing but to the will of God he received that day. Whatever his prayer was, I believe that he expressed his desire and was answered according to God’s will. With that, he was never ashamed of expressing it to me and telling me how thankful he was during that day. Which was also seen in the leper in the Gospel, who went out to the people and spread to all what he had received from the Lord.
It is true that a heart filled with gratitude overflows with joy. No one could ever stop the joy from flowing for it is a blessing received from God who is the ultimate source of everything.