12th Sunday of Luke
(Healing of the Ten Lepers)
In the parables of the Lord, we see three different groups of people, who symbolise the three types of believers: the servants, the hired workers, and the children.
The servants symbolise those who worship God out of fear. The hired servants symbolise those who worship God in order to gain something, whether here on earth or in the life to come.
Both of these stages are necessary in their own way. As the Bible says, “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
When a person begins to fear the consequences of sin, he gradually begins to avoid it. And when a person avoids sin, the dark fog that blinded the eyes of the heart begins to dissipate. And so, the person’s spiritual senses begin to awaken and become more sensitive. The person begins to regain their sight, and starts to see the beauty of the spiritual life.
Here we also see a change in the incentive driving a person to worship God. The negative incentive of fear begins to give way to a positive incentive. The person wants to gain the good things God has to offer him. There’s also a change in the way we see God: he is no longer the stern judge, but the kind benefactor. This is why the Bible describes fear as the beginning of wisdom, but not the end. The endpoint is love. As St John the Apostle tells us, “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).
These two stages are therefore necessary, but they’re not enough, because they both involve a degree of egotism. I want to avoid loss, I want to gain something. Love, however, does not focus on the I, but on the thou. And this is where the third stage of spiritual maturity is to be found: that of the children of God. When we love someone, we’re not with them to gain something, nor to avoid suffering loss. When we love someone, we’re with them simply because we enjoy being with them — the only thing we seek to gain is their presence; and that same presence is the only thing we fear losing. For the children of God, the only thing of value is the presence of their Father.
This is why the highest form of worship is neither confession nor supplication, but praise and thanksgiving. In the Kingdom of Heaven, there will be neither confession — since there will be no sin — nor supplication — since we will lack nothing —; there will only be praise and thanksgiving. This is why the Divine Liturgy, which is our foretaste of the Kingdom of God on earth, is also referred to as the Eucharist (Ευχαριστία), which means thanksgiving. Of course we come to the Divine Liturgy to gain something, but again, the thing we seek to gain is nothing other than “the one thing needful”, namely, the presence of God, our participation in his divine life, to be close to God simply because we love him.
This is what is expressed in today’s Gospel reading. ‘Ten lepers, stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”.’ They sought healing, and no doubt asked with faith, and the Lord, seeing that faith, healed them all. But of these ten, only one “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and fell on his face at Jesus’s feet, giving him thanks”. In other words, only one of them belonged to that third category of faith, that of the children of God — the other nine were still among the hired workers. They knew how to supplicate, but not how to give thanks. Moreover, we learn that the one who returned was a Samaritan, someone who would have been seen as a foreigner and heretic.
I would say that the message here is not to take anything for granted. Let us examine ourselves, then, to see which of these three groups we belong to. How do we approach God? As servants, hired workers, or children of God?
As one medieval poet puts it:
If I worship you for fear of hell
then burn me in its flames
If I worship you to gain paradise
then bar me from its gates
But if I worship you for your sake alone
let me behold your face
Fr Kristian Akselberg