January 19, 2020

Commentary on the Gospel of the Twelfth Sunday of Luke - The Healing of the Ten Lepers (Venerable Bede)

By Venerable Bede

Commentary on the Gospel of Luke

Luke 17:11-19

"And it came to pass that there met him ten men that were lepers" (Lk. 17:12). They may well be described as lepers who, while having no true knowledge of the faith, profess a variety of heretical teachings.

For such people do not hide their ignorance, but proclaim it as the height of learning; priding themselves on what they have to say.

There is no false doctrine in which some truth is not mingled. True doctrine therefore mixed without order with what is false, in a man’s discussion or conversation, and showing like the colours in a body, resemble the leprosy that spots and blemishes the human body with patches of true and false colour.

Such persons are to be excluded from the Church so that, if it is possible, placed afar off they may with a loud voice cry out to Jesus. And so aptly there follows: "Who stood afar off and lifted up their voice, saying: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."

And rightly if they are to be saved do they call Jesus their Master. For when those that are to be healed humbly call Him Master (Praeceptor), they signify that they have gone astray from His teaching; and when they come back to the teaching of their Master, they soon return to the outward appearance of health.

For there follows: "Whom when he saw, he said: Go, shew yourselves to the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were made clean." We find that none of those to whom the Lord gave bodily favours were sent to the priests save lepers.

For the priesthood of the Jews was a figure of the Royal Priesthood to come, which is in the Church, and in which all arc consecrated who belong to the Body of Christ: the True and Supreme High Priest.

And whosoever by the grace of God is without any trace of heretical falsity, or pagan superstition…let him come to the Church, and let him show the true colour of the faith he has received.

Other faults, such as those relating to the good health as it were of the members of the soul and of the senses, the Lord heals and corrects Himself, interiorly in the conscience and in the understanding.

And even Paul, after the Lord had said to him: "Why persecutest thou me," and "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest," was nevertheless sent to Ananias, to receive the sacrament of the doctrine of the faith from the priesthood which had been established in the Church, and so that his true colour might be approved.

"And one of them when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God."

This one who went back giving glory to God is a figure of the one Church, in devout humility before Christ. He falling down before the feet of the Lord, gives fitting thanks.

For he truly gives thanks to God who repressing the thoughts of his own presumption, is humbly aware of how weak he is in himself; he who attributes no virtue to himself; who confesses that the good he does, is due to the mercy of his Creator.

Hence, fittingly, He adds: "And this was a Samaritan." For Samaritan means guardian. And by this name that people is very aptly signified who, giving thanks, attribute all it has received to Him from whom it received it; as the singer in the psalm declares: "I will keep my strength for thee; for thou art my protector: my God, his mercy shall go before me" (Ps. 58:10).

He falls on his face, ashamed because of the sins he remembers he has committed. For when a man is ashamed it is then he humbles himself. And for the same reason Paul said to certain persons who as it were lay face to the ground: "What fruit therefore had you then in those things of which you are now ashamed" (Rom. 6:21)?

On the other hand, of the rider of the horse (Amos 2:15) that is, of the man lifted above himself by the glory of this world, is it said: "That his rider may fall backwards" (Gen. 49:17). And again, it was written of the persecutors of the Lord that, "They went backward and fell to the ground" (Jn. 18:6).

What does this mean, that the elect fall on their faces, and the reprobate falls backwards, if not that he who falls backwards does not, beyond doubt, see where he falls; while he who falls forward, sees where he is falling?

The wicked therefore, since they do not see into what they are falling, are said to fall backwards; for they rush headlong where they cannot now see what will then happen to them.

But the just fall as it were upon their faces; for moved by fear, they humble themselves: of their own will they throw themselves down amid things visible, that they may be raised up amid things invisible.

"And Jesus, answering said: Were not ten made clean? And where are the nine? … There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger."

As to the body, it is easy to see that a man may have no leprosy; and yet he may not be sound of soul. But in the light of this miracle, it troubles the mind to know how one who is thankless can be said to be made clean?

But it is now easy to see, that this also can happen that someone within the society of the Church may know her true and pure doctrine, and may interpret it all in accord with the Catholic rule of faith; he may distinguish the creature from the Creator, and by this show that he is free as it were from leprosy, from the spots of lies, and nevertheless be ungrateful to God and Lord Who made him clean, because uplifted in pride, he has not thrown himself down in loving humility to give thanks, and so has become like those of whom the Apostle said: "When they knew God, they have not glorified Him as God or given thanks" (Rom. 1:21).

Saying, "they knew God," Paul shows that they had been made clean of leprosy; yet he goes on to call them ungrateful. And he said to him: "Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole." He who had fallen in humble devotion at the Lord’s feet, is told to rise, and go on his way.

For whoever is acutely aware of his own unworthiness, and humbles himself before God, is told by the comforting divine word, to rise, and to put his hand to "strong things" (Prov. 31:19); and growing daily in merit, go on his way to the "more perfect things" (Heb. 6:1).

For if faith made him whole who had hurried back to give thanks to his Saviour and to the One Who had made him clean, unfaith has brought spiritual ruin to those who, receiving favours from God, fail to return and give Him glory.

And so this lesson is joined to the one preceding it in the gospel (that of the unprofitable servants) for this reason; that there we learn, through the parable, that faith must grow through humility, while here more clearly we are shown by actual happenings, that it is not only confession of faith, but also the doing of the works that follow faith, which makes whole those who believe, and give glory to the Father Who is in heaven. Amen.