Sunday, October 9, 2016

Year C Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17; Ps 98:1-4; 2 Tim 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

After being cleansed of leprosy by heeding the words of Elisha and bathing himself seven times in the Jordan River, Naaman the Syrian offered Elisha a very generous gift, which the prophet steadfastly refused. But before proceeding any farther, I think it’s important to back the story up a bit.

Upon first discovering a leprous spot on his body, Naaman, the commander of the whole Syrian army, on the advice of a young Israelite woman, who had been led away captive and made a servant to Naaman’s wife, sought out an unnamed "prophet in Samaria" for a cure. Prior to leaving for the territory of Israel with a large amount of money with which to pay for his cure, Naaman sent a letter to Israel’s king announcing his arrival and the purpose of his visit. The king, convinced that it was a trick by the far more powerful nation to the north that would lead to war, tore his clothes because he did not know how Naaman was to be cured (2 Kgs 5:1-8).

When he heard of his king’s torment, Elisha sent a message to the king of Israel, telling him to send Naaman his way so the Syrian leader would "find out that there is a prophet in Israel" (2 Kgs 5:8). When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s abode, the prophet himself did not go out to meet him, but sent a messenger, who told the general, "Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean" (2 Kgs 5:10).

Naaman, who was clearly a man used to being catered to and getting his way, started to leave very angrily saying, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand there to call on the name of the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the place, and thus cure the leprous spot. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?" (2 Kgs. 5:11-12). Stated simply, Naaman was angry because God didn’t do what he wanted God to do in the way he wanted God to do it. If we’re being honest, are we not often very much like Naaman?

Ultimately, the Syrian general heeded the pleas of his servants and did as he was instructed. The result was his immediate and complete cure from the terrible disease. Refusing his generous gift, which was likely the money mentioned earlier, Elisha sent him away with two mules loaded with earth from Israel, even as Naaman assured the prophet that henceforth he would only worship the one, true God, the God of Israel, the One who had healed him and to whom he owed a debt he could never repay.

My dear friends, this is a homily in itself. But I think it is important to add that Jesus, about whose healing of ten lepers we hear in today’s Gospel, which event took place as he made his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, fully reveals to us the one God, living and true, whom Naaman worshiped from the day of his healing forward. To paraphrase the psalmist, Jesus is the revelation of God’s saving power to the nations. More than healing us from any physical ailment, Jesus heals us from the ravages of sin and its ultimate consequence, death. Both stories point us to what happens when we are baptized. We are not baptized into water. We are baptized into Christ. The healing we received in baptism is given us anew each time we make a good confession and also when we receive the sacrament of anointing the sick, which is why we call these two sacraments "the sacraments of healing."

As the lepers and Naaman demonstrate, anyone who has experienced God’s saving power through Christ cannot be anything but grateful. We should all be grateful lepers thanking Jesus.

Like Naaman and the grateful leper, who was a Samaritan, that is, a non-Jew, someone not a member of the chosen people, we too should express our gratitude for what Christ has done and continues to do for us. One way we express our gratitude by worshiping God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and Him alone, forsaking all idols, like the healed Syrian general.

Let it not be lost on us that what we are doing right here, right now is called Eucharist. "Eucharist" is simply the Greek word for thanksgiving. While we use it as a noun, the Greek word is a verb. The Greek word translated as "thanked" in our Gospel is euchariston, which literally means "thanking". To fully, actively, and consciously participate in our worship is to do nothing but obey the first of Jesus’ two great commandments- "love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27). We do this because, as our reading from 2 Timothy assures us, once we truly belong to Christ, he remains faithful even when we are unfaithful (2 Tim 2:13), which, if we’re honest, is often.

My brothers and sisters, worshiping God in gratitude is precisely what makes us members of his chosen people, not genetics or heredity. What ought to bring us to our knees in gratitude is our personal encounter with God’s mercy: Jesus Christ. This is why we kneel when we say, after being exhorted to "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world…," using the words of the grateful Roman centurion, whose servant Jesus healed, "Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed" (Matt 8:8).

I believe with my whole heart that Jesus really did cure ten lepers and that God healed Naaman of his disease too, just as these things are handed on to us in Sacred Scripture. I find all of this easy to believe because it pales in comparison to what Jesus has done and continues to do for me. He can and desperately wants to do the same for everyone. But he can only heal you if, like Naaman, you relent and let him do it his way, which, we can trust, is the best way. Then, like the grateful leper, we will fall "at the feet of Jesus and" thank Him (Luke 17:16), both now and forever, which is how long his love and mercy endure.

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