I begin with the story of a man by the name of Martin Rinkhart. He was a pastor in Prussia in the 1600s. He served as a pastor during the Thirty Years War in Europe which began in 1619 and ended in 1649. When the war began Martin moved into a walled city. Since the city was surrounded by a wall, many refugees from the war flocked into city to find safety inside the walls as the battles raged outside the walls. However, the city had its problems. It was overrun with poverty, food shortages and the plague. Conditions were awful. It was better than being on the battlefield, but it was still hell on earth.
By the end of the thirty years war, he was the only pastor left in that town. He alone had to bury those who died: both the citizens of that town and the refugees from the war. Somewhere in the middle of all of that suffering, he wrote a song, a hymn that we always sing at Thanksgiving time. And these are the words: “Now, thank we all our God; with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done; in whom this world rejoices. Who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.” Martin was able to keep joy in his heart in the middle of the Thirty Years War.
I share that story with you today because it runs parallel to the story of the ten lepers. In both cases we see people in a walled enclosure cut off from the rest of the world. And in both cases someone comes from the outside world to bring healing to those on the inside. Jesus brought physical healing to the ten lepers. And Martin brought spiritual healing to people living in confinement. Both stories present us with a challenge.
They call us to take a look at our behaviors and ask the question: “Do we follow the example that was set by Jesus?” Do we visit the sick? Do we visit people in treatment centers? Do we visit those who live in nursing homes? Do we visit those who are homebound? Do we visit those in prison? Or do we stay away from all those people? When we study the gospels we see that Jesus was always thinking about those who were cut off from society. He went to the leper colony to see the lepers. He went to the Pool of Bethesda to visit the sick. He went down the alleys and side streets to visit the sinners and tax collectors. Whenever we hear about His efforts to visit those who are not at the center of society, we should hear Him calling us to do the same.
Now I would like to look at something from my childhood. My parents heard Jesus calling them to visit the sick. Once a month they would pile us kids into the station wagon and take us to the convent in Little Falls to visit Sister Norbert, our great aunt. She had MS. She was paralyzed from the neck down. She could see and read and talk and smile… And that was all she could do.
She was completely paralyzed; literally and totally paralyzed. And yet she was a leader in her community. She was not the elected leader. She was not the Mother Superior. But she was a spiritual leader. She was always very cheerful, and the other sisters went to her for spiritual advice and she would say things like: “Misery is optional. No matter how much suffering you have, you can still be joyful. Misery is optional. You can always have the joy of Jesus in your heart.” In other words, she was looking at her options. She was free to be miserable. She was free to be joyful. And she decided to be joyful.
So why should we do this? Why should we visit the sick? There are many reasons. First of all, Jesus commanded us to do so.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 25, Jesus says that if we want to get to heaven we must visit the sick. Visiting the sick is not optional in the mind of Christ. Another reason: Jesus said that whatever we do for people with poor health we are doing for him. Our Risen Savior is living in those who have poor health and whatever we do for them we are doing for him. Also, when we visit with persons with health concerns we will be walking side by side with Jesus. The Gospels tell us that whenever he came to a town he went to see the blind and the deaf and the lepers and those who were paralyzed.
I will close with this thought: We will be walking with Jesus whenever we visit people with health concerns. And when people thank us for visiting them we will be close to Jesus who received a gracious Thank You from one of the lepers in today’s Gospel.