We are invited to pray with and reflect upon several important Christian
gifts in today’s readings. We pray for the grace of true humility which frees
us to tell ourselves and others our true condition. Humility is honesty and
such truthfulness will eventually bring about a healing somewhere in our
We pray also for the faith that what has been hurtful in our pasts do not
have to accompany us into our futures. Physical healing may take time and
often those injuries or debilitations remain no matter how intensely we pray.
The interior hurts, especially our angers at our not being physically healed,
can, with faith, be tempered, softened, and even let pass.
Faith can heal such angers and frustrations and the result is the freedom
to be grateful. Being grateful is only the beginning, Jesus came to
free us all from and free us for the new, the adventure of praise and trust.
We are offered in these readings, and in the Eucharist, invitations to return in faith and then return in thanksgiving.
We hear just a little bit of a wonderful story in today’s First Reading.
It would help if the whole of chapter five of Second Kings would be read.
Naaman is a commander of a foreign king to whom the Lord granted a victory.
Naaman has leprosy and his wife’s servant girl, who was taken from
Israel earlier, tells her mistress that if Naaman would go to the “man of
God” in Israel, Naaman would be healed. Naaman gets permission from
his king and goes in search of Elisha.
Naaman is simply told to bathe in the river Jordan. Naaman refuses,
thinking rivers in his home land would be better than the Jordan.
He begins returning home, but his servants beg him to just “do
it.” He reconsiders and bathes seven times and is cured. So
what we hear is his return humbly and gratefully to Elisha.
Naaman wants to give something in response, but Elisha refuses
that. So Naaman begs for two carloads of dirt from the holy land of Israel
to take back to his own land and thereby be in union with the God of Israel
and the God of His being cured. It is a great story.
The Gospel relates a more familiar story which has an important twist. Ten
lepers shout for healing and when they receive this gift, only one returns
shouting his praise. The twist is more complicated - that the healed person
is a Samaritan, a foreigner. Luke is working with Jesus’ teaching his apostles
about what going up to Jerusalem is going to mean. It is stated simply in
the first verse that “Jesus was continuing his journey to Jerusalem.” The
apostles will learn that they, themselves, are outcasts, will be rejected,
and exiled from their Jewish pasts.
Living thanks is more important than giving thanks. The Samaritan returns
and he represents the universal embrace which Jesus has come to share. The
other nine are healed and represent the apostles who will be scattered as
Jerusalem approaches. They too will be gathered again and form the beginning
of the Kingdom” about which we will hear in the following weeks. This story
is a bit of a link between Jesus’ having been confronting the Pharisees about
their being rich, oppressive, and aloof and the true nature of following
Jesus. Being members of Jesus’ kingdom will involve being considered as lepers
and Jesus will be the one who heals. Those who come to the awareness that
they are lepers will find healing in Jesus. They will be grateful living
the healing touch extended through them to others.
Naaman and the leper from Samaria are non-belongers. They both leave their
state of alienation and experience being healed through coming to the “Holy
Land” of God. Naaman gives thanks by taking some of the Holy Ground back
with him. The cured-leper returns to Jesus as “Holy Land” and gives thanks
for now belonging.
So back to the Pharisees. They are the new “non-belongers” and those once
alienated are now members of the “kingdom.” Perhaps the major difference
has to do with “humility.” Jesus asks about the other “nine.”
I imagine that they were not ungrateful, but more likely not humble enough
to admit that once they were outside, different, unwelcomed. They would have
to live with their pasts into their futures. The “Kingdom” is for those who
stand in their earthliness which has been blessed by the “Holy Land” who
is Jesus. The Pharisees stand always at a distance greater than that of the
lepers when they sought cleansing. It is not so much about who gave thanks
and who did not. Jesus is dedicated to calling all of humanity away from
the leprosy of self-righteous pharisaic posturing. Jesus is the Land upon
which, and within which we do not posture, but take positions.
“The rich suffer want and go hungry, but nothing shall be lacking to those who fear the Lord.” Ps.