From Last Sunday's Gospel: "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"
This is a classic case of misdirection which catches most who read it. It seems that Jesus is concerned about the gratitude of those whom he cured of their leprosy. His words imply almost a judgment against the "other nine". The first reading of the last week gives the key to unlocking this story. Namaan has been cured of his leprosy and in response he asks Elisha the prophet: "please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth, for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except the LORD."
Jesus, in healing the ten lepers, has revealed to them that he is God. He instructs them to show themselves to the priests in accord with the Law of Moses. This is where the other nine Jewish lepers have gone so they can fulfill the law. The outsider, the Samaritan who is not bound by the Law of Moses, returns to give thanks to God. In Pope Francis' word this Samaritan man was truly living on the peripheries of existence. He was not welcome in civil society (nor were the other 9 lepers-due to their disease) and he had no standing in relationship to the Law of Moses. This gave him a freedom to discover the wonderful revelation that God was walking on earth.
Laws give structure to life and help a community to live in harmony with its diverse membership. Many discover that one can use rules or laws their their advantage (especially many different coaches). They also can give guidance and point us toward the goals of the society we live in. Laws can also be very blinding if they are applied indiscriminately and without a true sense of the communal need. The Law of Moses blinded the 9 lepers to the reality that they had been in the presence of God. They went to the Temple where they would encounter God's representatives who would pronounce them "clean" so that they could take their place back in the Jewish community. They missed the opportunity of the true encounter: to return to God himself, instead of dealing with his representatives.
For Jesus the personal encounter is more potent than following the Law of Moses. He comes to the world that we many come to know him personally and in a real way. When we get too caught up in following the laws of the Church instead of seeking to encounter him chances are we will miss him. I know some folks who have been great practitioners of the Roman Catholic faith since childhood and as they entered into their adulthood they began to ask themselves: "what does following the laws of the Church get me?" It is a great question to ask and it indicates that they are on the edge of becoming followers of Jesus. The next step is to look past the laws and to discover Jesus in the sacraments and in the Catholic community.
In the old days (maybe fifty years ago and beyond) following the law of the Church meant that the Church would get you into heaven. Even if you did not know Jesus yourself, it was enough that the Church knew him and you could protest that you followed all the rules so therefore using the key of Peter you could demand that the gates of heaven be opened for you. We are in a new age, in which the Gospel is more poignant than ever. Our very beings are craving the personal encounter with God and the Church has just the right capacity to do this. It is in the encounter of the community and the reception of the sacraments that God touches us and says: 'I am here'.