Third Sunday after Epiphany
When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him (v. 1). While the Lord taught on the mount, the disciples were with Him, for to them it was given to know the secret things of the heavenly doctrine; but now as He came down from the mount the crowds, who had been altogether unable to ascent into the mount followed Him. They that are bowed by the burden of sin cannot climb to the sublime mysteries. But when the Lord came down from the mount, that is, stooped to the infirmity, and helplessness of the rest, in pity to their imperfections, great multitudes followed Him, some for renown, most for His [saving] doctrine, some for cures, or having their wants administered to. Otherwise; by the mount on which the Lord sat is figured the Heaven, as it is written, “Heaven is my throne” (Is. 66.1). But when the Lord sits on the mount, only the disciples come to Him; because before He took on Him the frailty of our human nature, God was known only in Judaea (cf., Ps. 75.1); but when He came down from the height of his Divinity, and took upon Him the frailty of our human nature, a great multitude of the nations followed Him.
And, behold, there came a leper… (v.2): Among others who were not able to ascend into the mount was the leper, as bearing the burden of sin; for the sin of our souls is a leprosy. And the Lord came down from the height of heaven, as from a mountain, that He might purge the “leprousness” of our sin; and so the leper as already prepared meets Him as He came down. He works the cures below, and does none in the mount; for there is a time for all things under heaven, a time for teaching, and a time for healing. On the mount He taught, He cured souls, He healed hearts; which being finished, as He came down from the heavenly heights to heal bodies.
… and worshipped Him, saying, “Lord, if Thou wilt, thou canst make me clean: He did not ask it of Him as of a human physician, but adored Him as God. For faith and confession make a perfect prayer; so that the leprous man in adoring fulfilled the work of faith, and the work of confession in words Lord, if Thou wilt… “He said not, ‘If Thou wilt ask of God,’ or, ‘If Thou wilt make adoration to God;’ nor did he say, ‘Lord, cleanse me;’ but if Thou wilt [leaving] all to Him, thereby making Him Lord and attributing to Him the [divine] power over all” (St. John Chrysostom). And thus he rewarded a spiritual Physician with a spiritual reward; for as physicians are gained by money, so He with prayer. We offer to God nothing more worthy than faithful prayer. In that he say, If thou wilt, there is no doubt that Christ’s will is ready to every good work; but only doubt whether that cure would be expedient for him, because soundness of body is not good for all. If thou wilt then is as much as to say, I believe that Thou willest whatever is good, but I know not if this that I desire for myself is good.
And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him… (v.3): For He was not only God, but man also, whence He wrought Divine wonders by touch and word; for as by an instrument so by His body the Divine acts were done.
immediately his leprosy was cleansed…: Because he was not slow to believe, his cure is not delayed; he did not linger in his confession, Christ did not linger in His cure.
And Jesus said unto him, “See thou tell no man…”: “And in truth what need was there that he should proclaim with his mouth what was evidently shewed in his body?” (St. Jerome)
… shew thyself to the Priest… (v.4): He sends him to the Priests, first, because of His humility that He may seem to defer to the Priests; secondly, that when they saw the leper cleansed they might be saved, if they would believe on the Saviour, or if not that they might be without excuse; and lastly, that He might not seem, as He was often charged, to be infringing the Law” (St. Jerome). Or, He sends him to the Priests that they might know that he was not cleansed according to the manner of the Law, but by the operation of grace.
By the leper is signified the sinner; for sin makes an unclean and impure soul; he falls down before Christ when he is confounded concerning his former sins; yet he ought to confess, and to seek the remedy of penitence; so the leper shews his disease, and asks a cure. The Lord stretches out His hand when He affords the aid of Divine mercy; whereupon follows immediately remission of sin; nor ought the Church to be reconciled to the same, but on the sentence of the Priest.
… and offer the gift that Moses commanded…: “Should any be perplexed how, when the Lord seems here to approve Moses’ offering, the Church does not receive it, let him remember, that Christ had not yet offered His body for a holocaust. And it behoved that the typical sacrifices should not be taken away, before that which they typified was established by the testimony of the Apostles’ preaching, and by the faith of the people believing. By this man was figured the whole human race, for he was not only leprous, but, according to the Gospel of Luke, is described as full of leprosy. For all have sinned, and need glory of God (Rom. 3.23); to wit, that glory, that the hand of the Saviour being stretched out, (that is, the Word being made flesh), and touching human nature, they might be cleansed from the vanity of their former ways; and that they that had been long abominable, and cast out from the camp of God’s people, might be restored to the temple and the priest, and be able to offer their bodies a living sacrifice to Him to whom it is said, Thou art a Priest for ever (Ps. 109.4)” (St. Bede).
… for a testimony unto them: That should they afterwards seek to put him out, He might be able to say, You have received gifts on My cleansing, how do ye now cast Me out as a leper?
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion… (v.5): This centurion was the first-fruits of the Gentiles, and in comparison of his faith, all the faith of the Jews was unbelief; he neither heard Christ teaching, nor saw the leper when he was cleansed, but from hearing only that he had been healed, he believed more than he heard; and so he mystically typified the Gentiles that should come, who had neither read the Law nor the Prophets concerning Christ, nor had seen Christ Himself work His miracles. He came to Him and besought Him, saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, and is grievously afflicted.
Mark the goodness of the centurion, who for the health of his servant was in so great haste and anxiety, as though by his death he should suffer loss, not of money, but of his well being. For he reckoned no difference between the servant and the master; their place in this world may be different, but their nature is one. Mark also his faith, in that he said not, “Come and heal him,” because that Christ who stood there was present in every place; and his wisdom, in that he said not, “Heal him here on this spot,” for he knew that He was mighty to do, wise to understand, and merciful to hearken, therefore he did but declare the sickness, leaving it to the Lord, by His merciful power to heal. And he is grievously afflicted; this shews how he loved him, for when any that we love is pained or tormented, thought it be but slightly, yet we think him more afflicted than he really is.
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed... (v.8): “By declaring himself unworthy, he shewed himself worthy, not indeed into whose house, but into whose heart, Christ the Word of God should enter. Nor could he have said this with so much faith and humility, had he not borne in his heart Him whom he feared to have in his house. And indeed it would have been no great blessedness that Jesus should enter within his walls, if He had not already entered into his heart” (St. Augustine).
Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel (v.10): Andrew believed, but it was after John had said, Behold the Lamb of God (Jn. 1:36); Peter believed, but it was by reading the Scriptures; and Nathanael first received a proof of His Divinity, and then spoke forth his confession of faith.
… outer darkness… (v.12): “It is called, outer darkness, because he whom the Lord casts out leaves the light” (St. Jerome).
… there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth:Thus in metaphor He describes the sufferings of the tormented limbs; the eyes shed tears when filled with smoke, and the teeth chatter together from cold. This shews that the wicked in hell shall endure both extreme cold and extreme heat: according to that in Job, Let [them] pass from rivers of snow to excessive heat (Job 24.19).
[Taken from St. Thomas Aquinas, “Catena Aurea”]