What is the question? It is the question you ask yourself whenever life is hard. The question that comes into your mind when you see tragedy or the suffering of others. The question that causes you to doubt God’s goodness. The question that leads you to think God doesn’t hear, or God doesn’t care, or God isn’t there. It’s the question of Job. And it’s the implicit question in today’s Gospel.
For notice what the leper says. Jesus has just come down from the mountain—the mountain where He spoke to His disciples and the crowd about God’s blessings, and how God’s mercy should urge us on to do what is right, and how we should treasure God’s kindness, and how we should live God’s compassion toward others.
Jesus has just come down from the mountain, and a leper, an outcast who is clearly out of place, a man whose suffering no one wants to see or deal with—this man asks Jesus is He wants to help him.
That’s not exactly how the leper puts it. He says, “If thou wilt, if you desire…” But hidden in that statement is our fear: Maybe, Lord, you don’t want to; maybe, Lord, you like seeing me miserable.
So what’s the question? Why, Lord, must I go through this? Why, Lord, do you permit suffering? Why help some, but not others? Why not help me? Now!
The answer to the question is this: Because our Father knows what is both necessary and best for your salvation.
That answer is not designed to terrify. It’s not a matter of how much chastisement you need, or how much torture you are able to bear. Rather, the answer is the answer of a loving Father; a father who knows best what we need, and how best to draw us into Himself.
You see, Our Lord deals with us on an individual basis. He doesn’t use a cookie-cutter approach. There is no “one-size-fits-all” salvation. Our Lord respects us—who we are, our individuality—too much.
And so He works with each of us, one-on-one, in the way that He thinks best. All so that we might be led closer and more intimately into His embrace.
Our sense of fairness, however, too often gets in the way. And our impatience gets in the way. And most of all, what gets in the way is our desire to be our own doctor, our own god, to self-medicate and plot our own way of escape.
Our Lord also takes that into account. But His goal is not to break us; nor to toughen us. And His goal is not to make our life easy so that we think better of Him. Our Lord’s goal is always the same: to help us attain His kingdom.
In this goal, Our Lord will not forsake us, or leave us to fend for ourselves. And to attain the kingdom of heaven, we need to wholly yield our wills to Him.
That doesn’t mean we sit back and take it. It doesn’t mean that we avoid the various helps Our Lord sends us through doctors, therapists or priests. And it doesn’t mean that we refuse to do justice and love mercy.
However, to yield to Our Lord’s will, most certainly means that we walk humbly with our God. And we do that when we seek the Lord in the same way that the leper sought Him: not by demanding, but humbly, saying, “Lord, if you are willing…”
For as soon as we say, “Lord, if you are willing,” we are also saying, “Not what I want, but what you desire; not what I demand, but whatever you think will aid my soul’s salvation.”
That’s how the centurion approached Jesus. A humility that did not even ask for any help, but simply prayed his prayer with the confidence that Jesus knew what was best. And that His healing Word was sufficient. And that Our Lord was willing.
And what did He say to the humble centurion, to the leper? “I am willing.”
With these words, Our Blessed Lord announces that He truly wants to give to us and do for us, to help and assist us, to rescue and deliver us. These words mean that Our Lord does not merely pity us, but that He focuses all His attention on helping us; that He wills and desires and wants to stretch out the right hand of His majesty to help and defend us.
That is what the leper gets to hear. That is what the centurion gets to hear. And that is always what we get to hear, whenever we cry out to Our Lord.
For the prayer, the crying out—that, right there, means that we are closer to the kingdom of heaven. The prayer, the crying out—that, right there, means that we desire not our will, but the Lord’s will.
And the Lord’s will goes the Lord’s way. The way that He determines is best for us. The way that He knows will draw us into His kingdom. The way that He sees as the right way.
Not my way, but the Lord’s way. That is what the leper wanted. That is what the centurion asked for. And, at the end of each day, that should always be our prayer.
May our heavenly Father, through His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, have mercy upon us and save us.