In the Theology of the Body book, Pope St. John Paul II left us the core of his great vision, deeply rooted in Saint John of the Cross, a vision focused on the mystery of love that reaches from the Trinity through Christ’s spousal relation with the Church to the concrete bodies of men and women. In today’s gospel, we read the story of the ten lepers whom Jesus healed. Jesus cares about the wellbeing of our bodies. When it comes to religion, says Christopher West in his book “Theology of the Body for Beginners”, people are used to an emphasis on the spiritual realm. However, many people are unfamiliar, and sometimes even uncomfortable, with an emphasis on the body. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “as a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and realities” (CCC 1146). As bodily creatures, this is in a certain sense the only way we can experience the spiritual world. By taking on a body through the incarnation, God humbly meets us right here, in our physical, human state (West, 3).
Jesus, the eternal Word of God entered the timely world when He became a body and thus becomes the sacrament of the encounter with the Father. He, Jesus, is the divine face before man and is the human face before God, thus the Word became flesh and dwells among us. The lepers of today’s gospel experience in their flesh the horrible sickness of leprosy, which punished their bodies and separated them physically from society, including their own relatives. While leprosy was eating up their bodies, loneliness devoured their souls and hearts. Jesus meets them on the road and his guts were moved with pity. Jesus felt in his body the compassion that moved him to do something for the walking dead, who were the lepers. The lepers had experienced in their flesh the rejection of their own families and had felt in their bodies the stones thrown at them by the people who were terrified when they heard them screaming ‘Tamé, Tamé’ (unclean, unclean). The lepers knew about Jesus of Nazareth and the miracles he performed with the sick, finally this one was not only a poet that preached beautiful words, but someone who understood the human pain. Would this one be able to cure the sickness of sickness? They hoped against all hope. Their hope was not optimism; it was the gaze of their soul to a finally transcendent fulfillment. Moved with this hope by which their lives were ordered towards God and the things of God, the lepers broke the law that kept them in the outskirts of the village and hiding in caves hoping for someone to throw them a piece of bread and came to the encounter of this mysterious man named Jesus. When the lepers saw him, they began to cry out from the bottom of their lungs, but with a voice that came from their wounded soul “Jesus, master, have pity on us!” Jesus sent them to the priest, as the law prescribed it, so the priest could officially confirm the healing. Once more we see the strong connection between the spiritual and the physical realms that govern our existence. It is the body and the flesh of the lepers that is cured and it is the spiritual figure of the priest that corroborates the healing and it is the priest who decides whether they can be reintegrated into society or not.
There was a belief that leprosy was due to a sin that the person committed and the illness was the punishment of God. Jesus the healer comes to forgive sins and to heal the bodies. The Word became flesh and is still dwelling among us. As historical man or woman, we suffer in our bodies the consequences of the sins we commit, mainly the rupture of the original unity that was meant from the beginning. Those sins break the relationship with God and with each other. At the same time we, the historical man, can experience in our souls the healing power of God through the sacraments that we feel with our senses. Jesus “still turns directly to human beings who belong to a definite society” (TOB 34:3) and heals our broken bodies and wounded spirits. “The redeemer of man, Jesus Christ is the center of the universe and of history” (Redemptor Hominis, 1), that is why he is the man of all seasons. Because he is the center of the world we look to him from every corner of the world and because he is the center of history, we can invoke him at any time calling out with our physical voices which express the spiritual needs using the words of the lepers “Jesus, master, have pity on us.” Let us be thankful, like the Samaritan leper who came back to give thanks, for the many times God has healed us through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
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Father Jorge Gomez is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Father Jorge has attended many courses at the Theology of the Body Institute and has attended the TOB & Priestly Identity and TOB & Priestly Prayer retreats at the Theology of the Body Institute.