You know how we have named certain Sundays throughout the year based on their readings? Like we will often refer to the 4th Sunday of Easter as “Good Shepherd Sunday”, because the Gospel for that day is the parable of the Good Shepherd. Well, between Naaman the Syrian and the 10 guys in the Gospel, I recommended that today be referred to as “Leper Sunday”, but the pastor didn’t think that would look very good on a banner.
Still, it is tempting to think that today’s Gospel is about healing from Leprosy, but that is more like an unimportant, peripheral detail. The healing just sets that stage for the last, most important line: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Notice that Jesus delivers this line after the Samaritan man has been healed and returned. Jesus clearly has something other than physical healing in mind when he talks about salvation. Somehow, even though 10 men were healed, only one was “saved”.
So what is salvation? As Catholics, this is actually a difficult question to answer, because the Church has only been clear on what salvation is not. Salvation is not just living a good life, which is something we could achieve on our own without God. Salvation is also not being shielded from the wrath of an angry God, as so many of our Protestant brothers and sisters like to think. Salvation in Catholic theology lies somewhere between the two. Jesus saves us from sin, but how he does so is still up for debate.
The most compelling explanation I have heard is that Jesus saves us through solidarity; that is, Jesus unites himself to us, so that we can be united to him. Jesus became human, suffered temptation, and took all our sins upon himself, so that in everything we experience every day, we know that Jesus has experienced it, too. It is kind of like Undercover Boss, on a cosmic scale. This means that everything Jesus touched, everything Jesus experienced, everything Jesus underwent is purified by and united to God, because Jesus is God. If Jesus had not died, death would not be purified.
See Jesus is the source of all goodness, all purity, all happiness. Whatever he touches is made clean. This means that we are saved to the extent that we united ourselves to Jesus. Whatever we give to Jesus is purified of sin and made like God. Whatever we keep to ourselves, hidden away from God, will remain sinful and corrupted. We have to give everything to Jesus: our desires, our struggles, our sins, or shame, our hopes, our dreams, our families, even our very selves; because these are all important parts of us, and only if we unite them with Jesus can he save us.
So the leper is saved because, in an act of pure thanksgiving and faith, he gives himself over entirely to Jesus. Which makes the original healing very interesting, almost like a test. The 10 lepers ask to be healed, and so they are healed, but this gift is not the end of the story, but the beginning. What each leper does in response to the healing matters, and only the Samaritan leper responded in a way that brought him salvation.
Similarly, God tests us with our gifts. Most of us in this parish, myself included, have been very blessed: we live comfortable lives, we have loving families, we have health and security. We are like the 10 lepers after they were cleansed. But it is what happens next, how we respond to these gifts, that ultimately matters. The question is, are we using these gifts to grow closer to Jesus? Are we so thankful for the things we have been given that we return, glorifying God in a loud voice, falling at the feet of Jesus to thank him? It is in this response that we will find salvation.
But, lest we be tempted by the Gospel of prosperity, it is important to remember that not only our gifts, but our sufferings can bring us close to God. There is a reason that Jesus suffered such a horrible, gruesome death: so that whenever we suffer, we know that God suffered right along with us. Our sufferings, as unwelcome as they are, give us an opportunity to unite ourselves to Jesus in a new and very powerful way. Saint Paul is very clear in the second reading that it is only by dying with Jesus that we shall also live with Jesus.
So there it is: salvation is life with Christ. Not life sometimes, but life all the time. Salvation is consciously realizing that Jesus is with us in every joy and in every pain. Salvation is holding nothing back from God, but giving everything over to him so that he can purify it and make it new. Salvation is uniting ourselves to Jesus, who has already united himself with us.