One day, some mothers present their kids to Jesus so that he may take them in his arms and caress them (Mk 10:13). The disciples, who judge this excessive familiarity an inconvenience, drive them away with rebukes. Jesus reacts: “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” The episode is narrated with varying shades of meaning by the three synoptic gospels. While Mark and Matthew speak of children, Luke says that newborns are presented to Jesus (Lk 18:15). If children do something lovely, they merit the love of the parents. But the newborns have not begun to do anything at all. They are the image of one who is able to receive freely. Jesus singles out newborns as models of the attitude we should have in front of God. They are directly opposite to the Pharisee who prides himself in all the good he has done. Jesus says that one cannot enter the kingdom of God unless s/he becomes like a newborn baby; which is not aware of owing always and all to the one who gave and continues to give it life. When one thinks of attributing to oneself the good work, s/he could no longer be a newborn and auto-excludes himself/herself from God’s kingdom. Paul says: “What have you that you have not received? And if you received it, why are you proud, as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7).
TO INTERNALIZE THE MESSAGE, LET US REPEAT: “O Lord, you reserved to the small ones the gift of the Kingdom of God.”
A wise person of the Old Testament summarizes the accumulated life experiences: “From my youth to old age, I am yet to see the righteous forsaken or their children begging for alms. For the Lord loves justice and right and never forsakes his faithful ones. The wicked instead will perish and their breed will be cut off” (Ps 37:25.28).
Beautiful words, would we subscribe to them without some reservation? Who does not know examples that contradict it? Two weeks ago we have heard Habakkuk lamenting with the Lord. He said: In the country the evil ones dominate, doing all sorts of injustice and You, Lord, do not intervene.
In the Bible one finds stupendous invocations to God asking his intervention when life on earth becomes intolerable. The Psalmist implores: “But you, O Lord, who have seen, do not keep silent. Do not stand far from me. Stir yourself up, stand up for my rights and my cause, my God and my Lord” (Ps 35:22-23). In the Book of Revelation the martyrs raise their cry to the Lord: “Holy and righeous Lord, how long will it be before you render justice and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev 6:10).
Why is it that God does not respond always and immediately to these pleadings? If, although he could, he does not put an end to injustice; could he perhaps be considered innocent? How would he justify his silence?
To internalize the message, let us repeat:
“Even if I am not always aware, you, Lord, protect me in the shadow of your wings”
We can run the risk of reducing the message of the today’s Gospel to a lesson of good manners, to remember to say thank you to those who help us. The Samaritan leper is added at times as a model of gratitude and no more. Interpreted in this way, the scene with which the story concludes—a group of persons inexplicably discourteous and an unhappy Jesus—communicates sorrow more than joy, while in every page of the Gospel we await only joy. The theme is not gratitude.
Jesus remains surprised: a Samaritan—a heretic, a non-believer—had a theological insight which, the nine Jews, sons of his people, educated in the faith and knowledgeable of the Scriptures, did not have. Along the way, all ten were aware that Jesus was a healer. The great news was immediately announced to the spiritual guides of Israel. God has visited his people. He has sent a prophet on par with Elisha. Until here, all the ten arrived.
A new light brightened only in the mind and heart of the Samaritan: he understood that Jesus was more than a healer. In his act of salvation the leper captured the message of God. He, the heretic who did not believe in the prophets, had surprisingly intuited that God has sent him, whom the prophets announced: He opens the eyes of the blind, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead are raised to life and the lepers are made clean (Lk 7:22).
He is the first to truly grasp that God is not far from the lepers. He does not escape nor reject them. He knew what he must say to those who institutionalized, in the name of God, the marginalization of the lepers: get over with religion that excludes, judges, condemns the impure persons! In Jesus, the Lord appeared in their midst; he touches and heals them.
The message of joy is this: the impure, the heretics, the marginalized are not only closer to God, but they get to him and to Christ first and in a more authentic way than the others.
To internalize the message, we may repeat: “Make, O Lord, that our Christian community does not marginalize the lepers but touch and heal them.”