The plight of lepers occurs in both the first reading and the Gospel for this Sunday’s liturgy, the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Ancient accounts refer to leprosy as the oldest recorded disease; the Bible mentions the illness and those afflicted more than 60 times. The strong passage in Leviticus (13: 2-3) describes the progression of the disease and rules that the priest “shall declare the man unclean.” The story from the second Book of Kings describes the leper, Naaman, army commander, who angrily follows the advice of the prophet Elisha to wash seven times in the Jordan River — and is cured. “Now I know,” Naaman insists, “that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus cites that story in Luke 4: 2-7, when he says: “There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet and none was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian.” The reference to the “Syrian” forms the key element in the Gospel story of the ten lepers that is only found in Luke (17: 11-19, today’s Gospel). Christ heals other lepers in the narratives of Matthew, Mark and Luke, but the 10 lepers are a single event.Today’s Gospel describes Christ on a journey from Galilee through the border of Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. As he approaches a village (not named) a group of 10 lepers loudly call out to him, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us.” These outcasts of society usually banded together, following the strict isolation laws required of all those deemed “unclean.” Historically the number 10 signifies law and responsibility and the term is used more than 200 times in Scripture.In beseeching help from Jesus, they are acknowledging that “only God can heal” their infirmity and so they “lifted up their voices.” The interchange is brief but life-saving, as Jesus tells them to go to the priests, who would declare them cleansed and they leave immediately.However, it is the Samaritan who realizes he is cleansed and has no need of the priest’s approval. So he returns to glorify God “in a loud voice” and is thankful. “Only this foreigner has returned to give thanks?” asks Christ, who then tells him to go, for “your faith has saved you.” The Samaritan, who was twice an outcast (as a foreigner and a leper), realizes that Jesus has made him whole and thanks God who saved him.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/1011/lepers/{/gallery}