As we move through our days from one Eucharistic Liturgy to the next, we also move through various atmospheres. In this part of the United States during October, we can have one hot day, then a rain storm, then two days of cool winds and then back to the warmth.
We can walk into rooms of a friendly spirit and into the next full of tension and hostility. Our own spirits are changed by such variations. Our spiritual temperatures and barometric pressures are influenced by many things. We move through them and are touched by many elements of life.
We come to the weekend’s liturgy exactly as these pressures arrange our minds and hearts. As we prepare for this Holy Prayer of the community, we may not be in the same spirit as everybody else and in accord with the themes of the readings and music. We have to be who Jesus meets in the Word and the Sacrament and not deposit our true selves in the holy water font to be picked up on the way out. We can pray as we move these days with the experiences of spirit which create our readiness for God’s touching us in the liturgy.
Naaman is the servant and good friend of the king of Aram and he has leprosy. Naaman’s wife’s servant girl tells Naaman’s wife to tell Naaman to inform the king that there is a holy man in Israel who can cure him. The king sends Naaman with a letter of introduction to the king of Israel who becomes indignant at his being thought a god and so sends Naaman to Elisha. Here the plot thickens. Elisha tells Naaman to simply and humbly go down to the river Jordan and bathe seven times. Now Naaman gets indignant and heads home with his caravans of precious gifts which he was willing to pay for healing. His companions persuade him to just try it for goodness sakes. What we hear in the First Reading is the rest of the story.
Elisha refuses some gifts of thanksgiving or payment for the healing of Naaman. Naaman then requests two mule-loads of earth from the land of Israel and pledges that he will offer sacrifices no longer to any god except the God of Israel upon the transported earth of the holy land of Elisha, the land of the One and Holy God.
The precious gifts of payment are not a fitting thanksgiving, but rather that Naaman would return to his homeland and live according to his faith and cleansed life. This story leads well into today’s Gospel.
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem and ten outsiders, including a foreigner, beg Him to heal them of their leprosy. All ten were excluded from the community, because of their skin condition. Jesus looks beyond their outside and heals them telling them to go and give evidence to the authorities that they are healed and can return to proper relationships. Ten are healed. One of them, of course the foreigner, does not apparently show himself to the priests, but to himself first and realizing his newness, returns to the source of his healing and belonging.
Both Naaman and this leper from Samaria seek healing outside their national limits. The question is whether these texts are about properly giving thanks or better, living thanks. It is distractingly easy to shame the nine who did not return and Jesus does ask about whether or not ten were healed. The Samaritan shows his faith in Jesus by showing his healed body to Jesus as the new testimony of God’s faithful love. Naaman went to Elisha expecting to do something difficult or heroic to win God’s cleansing power. The “nine” went to the priests according to the Jewish tradition of purification, which would involve more than merely showing themselves as clean. This process of ritual purification would take time and examinations.
As a young Jesuit I was moved, either by grace or Irish guilt to ask the Director if I could do a penance of some kind to atone for my sins and those of my brothers, which I assumed were more than mine of course. I suggested that I sleep that night without a pillow. I was given this opportunity, but just for that one night. I went to bed and was so aware of what a tremendously holy action I was performing that I couldn't’t get to sleep. I was actually enjoying the difficult, tortuous sacrificial act so much that I guess I did not want to miss a moment of it. I was delighting in winning God’s mercy!
Before I put my head on my pillow in a few minutes tonight, I return with the one-now-clean fellow in one simple act of laying my head on the shoulder of Jesus, the Blessed and holy Soil of Israel and He says, “The difficult thing for you in receiving forgiveness is receiving the truth that you need it.” Physical penances and mortifications have a graceful place in our spirituality, but not to win God’s mercy, but rather to help us get in contact with our self-centered ways and to show ourselves to ourselves.
On that high note, I am off to bed for a two-pillow sleep.
“The rich suffer want and go hungry, but nothing shall be lacking to those who fear the Lord.” Ps. 34, 11
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook