Twenty Eighth Sunday October 10, 2010

2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19 

The readings of today present the theme of gratitude that should come spontaneously from the heart of every individual. In the first reading we have the healing of Naaman the Syrian and we see the expression of his gratitude to the God for giving him the healing through his prophet. A foreigner becomes a model of faith to God’s chosen people. In the Gospel we have the story of the ten lepers who come to Jesus for healing.  Only one of them, a Samaritan returns to Jesus to praise God and express his gratitude to Jesus.  The second reading calls for the unity with Jesus in faith and he will certainly respond to us in our necessities.  We all are aware that we have been the recipients of gifts from God.  In our life of faith an attitude of gratitude, that is to be thankful to God for everything he sends is essential and is a key to praying effectively. Our gratitude and words of thanks are indeed simple ways of showing appreciation for what we possess and all the blessings we have received. But the expression of gratitude is like all the other blessings must come from the depth of our hearts. Expressing an attitude of gratitude is more than giving words of thanks for the blessings. It is a way of living our life and being aware of how and why we are receiving these blessings. Being thankful to a person changes a person’s life and his orientation. Our expression of gratitude for all that we have received transforms our life and we feel and think in terms of abundance. Today’s word of God provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon our own disposition as we have received a gift of grace.

In the First Reading from the Second Book of Kings we have the healing of Naaman, a foreigner in the land of Israel. Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. The King sends him to the Kingdom of Israel for his healing. But the king of Israel misunderstands the entire movement and shows his anger which is countered by Prophet Elisha.  In the name of Yahweh Elisha sends a message to Naaman to cleanse himself in River Jordan. Even though Naaman refuses at first, carries out the order given by the Prophet and is healed. Here we see the conversion of the pagan dignitary. He is even more surprised when the healer refuses any reward for the task done. Naaman believes that Yahweh is the healer and he proclaims to all that there is no other God in the universe other than the God of Israel. This healing episode tells us that when we pray to God we trust in him and we allow him to act in his own way.  Secondly in our relationship with God must be of humility, submission and obedience. Finally the work of God is unique and must not be accompanied by physical rewards but there should be an inner conversion of heart.

The Second Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy begins by saying that Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David, emphasizing the Messianic Kingship of Christ.  Paul at this time in Prison in Rome and speaks of the hardships he suffered for Christ even being chained for his sake.  In such difficulty he can still preach the Word of God indicating that the Good News can be delivered from any situation and the word of God cannot be chained. Paul uses his very sufferings as a means of bringing Gospel to others.  Because of this marvelous end result, Paul was even more determined to persevere for the sake of those who have been called and have responded to God’s calling, so that they may also persevere to the end and obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.  Paul concludes by saying that if we die with him we will also be raised with him, if we deny him he will deny us and our fidelity to him is essential to live the fullness of life. The Lord is faithful to us even if we are faithless in him. Thus having died with Christ, our lives are hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life is revealed, then we also will be revealed with Him in glory. Our perseverance in the living faith, in whatever the Lord God permits to come our way for our sanctification, will be our assurance of salvation. Our perseverance is one of the many ways of saying thanks to God for what He has given us.

In today’s Gospel we have the narrative of healing the ten lepers by Jesus, nine of them being Jews, and the other a Samaritan. This incident took place as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem where he was to his imminent death on the cross. We are touched by the mercy and kindness of Jesus who reaches out to the outcasts of the society such as the lepers and at the same time we are reminded of the lack of insensitivity in human persons while receiving a favour from a benefactor.  Jesus encounters the ten lepers and when they saw Jesus they stood a great distance and shouted. They had no illusions about their helpless situation. Their only hope now was the compassion of Jesus, the Master and Lord, who was the living embodiment of the mercy and compassion of God. Their request is for Jesus to have mercy on them. Ordinarily such request would have been understood as monetary help. However, they did believe in the power of Jesus and received the gift of healing. Jesus does not touch them as he does elsewhere and work the miracle. Instead he sends them to the priests to perform the necessary ceremony and get a declaration to be accepted back into the society. Their disease did not disappear on the spot as was the case with other cures. He tested their faith and they received the healing as they went along the road. Normally when a Jewish leper was healed, he had to go to the local priest to confirm that he was now clean and permitted to mix among the general public. For the Samaritan, more was demanded. Most likely, he had to go to his own priest near Mount Gerizim. Yet this Samaritan shows greater amount of gratitude to the benefactor than the other Jewish people. Even though more was demanded of him, he was the only one to express gratitude for the gift of healing that he received.

It is interesting to note here that while the Jewish people normally did not mix with the Samaritans, misery brings them together. Here is an example of a great law of life: A common misfortune had broken down the racial and national barriers. In a common tragedy of their leprosy they had forgotten that they were Jews and Samaritans but people in need of help. If there is a flood in a country, wild animals congregate in a higher land for their safety and we will find animals which are natural enemies staying peacefully together. The Gospel tells us that out of those ten, the one who was a foreigner, a Samaritan, was the only one who returned to Jesus.  His primary response was not first to thank Jesus, but first to glorify God and then thank Jesus.  Even though Jesus did not look for gratitude from them or for any of the miracle he worked, yet as any human person he feels the insensitivity of the other nine who had easily forgotten the blessings they received. 

In the ancient world, leprosy was considered a dreaded disease. The person with leprosy was segregated from the community and had to live outside the village or town in isolation. They had to keep a distance from people at least fifty feet whenever they came out and if they saw anyone, they had to shout leper, leper, lest the other person is contaminated. Josephus tells us that they were treated as if they were dead persons and no one would keep contact with them. Leprosy kept a person totally marginalized from ordinary society until such a time as a priest would officially declare that the sufferer has been completely cured or healed.  Hence the healing of the person was the restoration to new life and accepting him back into the society.

No story in the gospel shows so emphatically the ingratitude of human persons. The ten lepers were gradually healed on the way and one of them the moment he realized that he was healed, realized that Jesus had healed him and returns to him before going to the priests to fulfill the obligation. He came and prostrated before Jesus, a sign of deepest respect and honour. Jesus expressed his surprise that the other nine did not come back to him to express their gratitude.  The nine that did not come to him were his compatriots, the Jews. The one who returned is a Samaritan, a foreigner who did not hold on to the Jewish practices. Jesus highlights this fact by his own reaction. “Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner”. This alien, this outsider and, by implication, this godless pagan, a person who is presumed to be far from God is the one who is most deeply aware of God’s action in his life. Here the Lord appreciates his faith and the sense of gratitude. He was the one who came to express the gratitude, the person least expected to do so. He is now told to go his way and need not go to any one because of his great faith and trust.  Yet Jesus is surprised that the other nine who were healed did not express their gratitude. 

The word of God today tells us that we all need to be grateful to God every day of our lives for the graces and good gifts we have received in and through him. He has not only given us our life with all its joys and sorrows, but he has prepared us a future life of joy and happiness.  We often fail to acknowledge the good he has done to us. What is needed in our life is the recognition of the good and the acknowledgement of gratitude towards God and all persons who come to us as instruments of God. Like Naaman, the Samaritan, and Paul, we should acknowledge God’s gifts and express our gratitude to him.  On reflection this passage can say so much to us about our own lives. Leprosy, once such a terrifying disease has largely disappeared from many parts of the earth. But there are other situations like AIDS and other diseases together with poverty, immigrants and other unwanted people. As followers of Jesus, we need not only to be aware but to promote the dignity and rights of people who are “different” by reason of race, culture, religion or any physical or mental handicap.  We need to see that for God there are absolutely no lepers, no outsiders. All are family, all have the same Father, all are his children, and all are brothers and sisters to each other.

One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African American Woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride.  Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car.  A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960’s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man’s door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits.  Then you came along.  Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying Husband’s’ bedside just before he passed away… God Bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.” Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.  (Nat King Cole was a great American Musician)

Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Rome

2 Responses to “Twenty Eighth Sunday October 10, 2010”

  1. Sr. Nanette Says:

    Thank you so much for the faith-filled Sunday Reflections. I always read and meditate your reflections and this moved me to connect it with my own life as Religious. More power and God Bless…

  2. abraham Says:

    father thanking you for the very meaningfull and rich reflection on the springing of gratitude, which is very essential to every human being. God bless you

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