Try to imagine, for a moment, that you were living in the time of Jesus and had contracted the horrible and incurable disease of leprosy. Leprosy was a fearful; and feared disease, and lepers were truly social outcasts; they could not come into populated areas and they also had to avoid coming close to people traveling outside the city or village. That affliction truly was a kind of living death.
Next imagine that you are a leper who comes into contact with a great miracle-worker, Jesus of Nazareth, and your desperate plea for a cure rouses the pity of the great miracle-worker You are instantly cured of your disease at the touch of his hand, and you feel your strength returning and your body once again feels whole and healthy. Can you imagine how grateful you would be to that man, how much you world owe to his mercy? What would your response be? How would the mercy of Jesus change your life from that moment?
But in fact there is a disease that we all can contract, and most all of us do at one time or another, which is indeed a kind of living death. Indeed it is more than a disease, for it is a living form of death, the death not of the body but of the soul. That disease of course is sin, and more precisely, mortal sin, because it kills the supernatural life of the soul, and the person in the state of mortal sin is truly a dead man walking.
Indeed, leprosy is more like venial sin, because it is not literally death of the body, but a disease that attacks the body which could be cured if man knew how to do it, and today we do. But mortal sin is really just that, mortal, a real death, the death of the soul, in so far as mortal sin kills the life of God in the human soul, and that we cannot “cure” in any way through medicine or science or any other human means. If we have mortal sin on our souls we are truly dead men, men without supernatural life and the is the most terrible death of all, because it means we will for all eternity remain subject to suffering since we will not have God’s life in our souls, unless we too encounter the miracle-worker, Jesus the Lord, who alone can raise us from the spiritual death that is mortal sin to the immortal life that is God’s, and restore our dignity as a human being, a child of God once more.
That last point is also very important. When Jesus raises us from death to life by his mercy in Baptism or Penance, he also restores our human dignity. You see, a disease like leprosy does not in itself take away the leper’s true dignity, even if he suffers being an outcast because people fear his disease. A disease of the body, no matter how terrible does not corrupt the soul, and a leper can be a saint, as Francis of Assisi recognized when he kissed the leper’s sores of Saint Damien of Molokai taught when he gave his life for his beloved lepers. But mortal sin destroys not only the supernatural life of our soul, but also corrupts the dignity of our humanity as such, since mortal sin alienates us from God and even from the communion of saints. We are still members of the Church, but we are dead members, and that fact is deadly to our dignity as men called to be God’s true children.
So if we honestly recognize what Jesus has done for us by raising us from the death of sin, the death of the soul, and truly saved us from eternal sorrow and suffering by that act of mercy, how does it affect the rest of our life here on earth? Do we return to the life of sin and alienation from God, or do we follow Jesus down the road of life? Are we not shocked how ungrateful the lepers cured by Jesus in today’s Gospel are after being cured by him? All that Jesus asked of this cured leper was not to make his identity known, since it would make his mission more difficult. But “He spread the report abroad, so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” Was it ingratitude or just thoughtless exuberance, we don’t know.
With us, on the other hand, if our life doesn’t change for the better after Christ raises us to the death of sin to the life of grace, it can only be terrible ingratitude. Christ does not raise us without a terrible cost. In the case the leper, Jesus simply exercised his creative power to restore the man to health. But, when he raises us to life, he does so by the power of his death and resurrection. The sins we commit caused his death, if only because Jesus had chosen to die for us, for our sins, to satisfy divine justice for our sins. He rose again for us, for us men and for our salvation, to communicate to us forgiveness of sins of the resurrection of our souls and one day our bodies. In other words, he didn’t just dismiss our sins as if they didn’t matter, but he absolved our sins and power of his blood.
So if we care so little for the price that He paid to show mercy to us, that we return to our life of sin, can we be anything but the most ungrateful of servants? And does not our sinful life even prevent Jesus from entering the lives of those who know us as Christians but who see us living anything but a Christian life? We need to meditate often on this gospel and how it applies to our life. Are we dead men walking, or are we alive in Christ, filled with gratitude, and making our way to the heavenly kingdom?