It happened in the first summer after my priestly ordination. I was a chaplain at a 16 day retreat for families. This took place in a small village in the Polish mountains, quite far from any big city. Among the participants was a family with a 2 years old girl, Julia – a very cheerful character. At one point she fell sick, some form of food poisoning. The medicines, prescribed by a local doctor didn’t help. The girl’s condition was becoming serious, so the parents decided to go the hospital next morning. On the afternoon of the day before, I suggested to them that I could administer the sacrament of anointing. I had to be very careful, because many people are convinced that this sacrament is only for people who are dying. Finally, after the supper, all participants of the retreat gathered in one big room, the parents came from their sick daughter and we all prayed for the girl. I anointed her with the oil of the sick. Then we all went to sleep. Next morning, on my way to common prayer, I met Julia playing on the grass. She was completely recovered.
In today’s gospel we see a man, a leper, who approaches Jesus, asking to be healed. Let’s look carefully at his prayer: “If you want to, you can cure me”. This very short sentence includes a very powerful message.
Firstly, there is a professing of faith. Leprosy was an incurable disease until the 1930s. Millions of these people throughout history were excluded from their local or tribal communities, treated like the dead. The sickness deformed their bodies; quite often a smell of rotten flesh accompanied these people. Nobody could cure leprosy. The man saying to Jesus “if you want to, you can cure me” professes his faith that healing depends only on the will of Jesus. There is no question about his power. For the leper the ability of Jesus to cure is absolutely certain.
Secondly, this man left the decision to Jesus. He didn’t try to force Jesus to act. Christ chooses the best moment to heal the man. In this particular passage of the gospel he cures the man immediately. But in the other parts of the gospel we find descriptions of healing, which were a long term process. Let me give you one example. Many years ago I met a man, who had cancer of the brain. The doctors had given him 3 months to live. When I met him, he lived for six months longer than was predicted. Finally he died, one year after the doctor’s diagnosis. He was a brilliant character. During his illness many of his relatives and friends had a change of mind. They started to realise, that wealth is not the only important achievement. God chose the best time. The sick man died in peace, in the company of his wife and daughters.
The meeting between the leper and Jesus may suggest a model for our personal prayer: to believe that everything is possible for God and to ask Him for a favour, but also to respect his decision. He knows very well what moment is the best time to act.