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Reflections for the XXVIII Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass on the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. He says that through the healing of the ten lepers, Jesus underscores the need for healing and the importance of gratitude.

II Kgs 5:14-17; II Tm 2:8-13; Lk 17:11-19

Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is gratitude – in particular, the expression of gratitude God expects from us. Today’s Gospel story of ‘the forgetful lepers’ presents a God Who desires gratitude from us for the many blessings we receive from Him, and Who feels pain at our ingratitude. L-19

Homily starter anecdote:  "Then where’s his hat?" Winston Churchill loved to tell the story of the little boy who fell off a pier into deep ocean water. An older sailor, heedless of the great danger to himself, dove into the stormy water, struggled with the boy, and finally, exhausted, brought him to safety. Two days later the boy’s mother came with him to the same pier, seeking the sailor who rescued her son. Finding him, she asked, "You dove into the ocean to bring my boy out?" "I did," he replied. The mother angrily demanded, "Then where’s his hat?" In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the story of nine ungrateful lepers. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Scripture readings summarized: Naaman, the Syrian Military General in the first reading, was an outcast not only because of his illness; he was also a non-Israelite. But he returned to thank the Prophet Elisha for the cure of his leprosy, and as a sign of his gratitude, transferred his allegiance to the God of Israel. In the Responsorial Psalm, (Ps 98), the Psalmist urges us, “Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands; Break into song; sing praise!” in thanksgiving to God who has “done wondrous deeds,” for all of us. St. Paul, in the second reading, advises Timothy to be grateful to God even in his physical sufferings and amid the dangers associated with spreading the Word of God, because God will always be faithful to His people. Today’s Gospel story tells us of a single non-Jewish leper (a “Samaritan heretic”), who returned to thank Jesus for healing him, while the nine Jewish lepers went their way, perhaps under the false impression that healing was their right as God’s Chosen People.  They did not seem to feel indebted to Jesus or to God for the singular favor they had received.  Instead, they hurried off to obtain a health certificate from the priests.  “Where are the other nine?” Jesus asked the Samaritan leper and the crowd.  “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Today’s readings also remind us that Faith and healing go hand in hand, as do Faith and reconciliation. It was Faith that prompted Naaman to plunge himself into the waters of the Jordan River, and it was Faith in Jesus which prompted the lepers to present themselves first to Jesus and then to the priests. Finally, the readings demonstrate God's love for all peoples, including the Samaritans (whom the Israelites hated), and the pagans, Israel's enemies whom Naaman represented.

First reading (2 Kings 5:14-17) explained: The narrator describes a vivid expression of thanksgiving (hodah) made by the pagan Naaman, the army commander of the King of Aram, (in present-day Syria; its capital was Damascus), at his healing from leprosy through the power of Yahweh.  When the prophet Elisha refused to accept Naaman’s costly gifts as reward for the healing, the grateful Naaman asked the prophet’s permission to take two mule-loads of earth with him from Yahweh’s land of Israel, so that when he got back to Damascus, he could place an altar for Yahweh on the soil, and so pray to Yahweh on the soil of Israel. Most people at that time had a crude, physical and territorial notion of Divinity. It was just understood that one god governed the land of Aram, and another god held sway over the territory of Israel, and so on. If you wanted to worship the God of Israel in another country, you had to take some of Israel's soil with you, dump it on the ground in the other country and stand on it. That way, you would "be in Israel," and so could worship Israel's God.  The grateful Naaman who had come to Faith in the Lord God through this miracle worked to heal him of leprosy, promised that he would accept Yahweh as his only God and would now offer holocausts to Him alone 

 Second Reading (2 Timothy 2:8-13) explained: In the Church at Ephesus, Timothy held an office that would evolve into that of a Bishop. Paul, a senior Apostle now in prison, loved his young, one-time missionary companion and friend of long standing. Today's passage is part of Paul's encouragement to Timothy. Paul tells Timothy that he willingly accepts his suffering --"even to the point of chains, like a criminal” –  as a grateful Apostle of Jesus, "for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory"(vv 9, 10). Part of the Christian life-experience includes the physical sufferings and dangers associated with spreading the Word of God [1 Cor 15:31; 2 Cor 4:8-11].  Paul reminds us that, “even if we are unfaithful, God will remain faithful;” and, hence, we must be grateful to God, even in our sufferings.  “I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.”(Rom 1:8)

Gospel exegesis:  Leprosy as God’s punishment: Jesus was on the border between Galilee and Samaria where He was met by a band of ten lepers, including among one Samaritan among the Jews. They had been drawn together by their common misery and, in their shared illness, ignored their traditional enmity.   Biblical leprosy rarely included Hansen’s disease (leprosy proper). It was mostly skin diseases like ringworm, psoriasis, leukoderma, and vitiligo. The suffering of lepers in Biblical times was chiefly due to the way they were treated by the religious society of the day (Interpreter’s Bible).  They were deemed unclean, unfit to be counted among a people who considered themselves “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Ex 19:6).  “Leprosy” was a terrible disease because its victims were separated from their families and society.  Lepers were treated as sinners who were being punished by God with a contagious disease.  The punishment given to Miriam (the complaining sister of Moses in Numbers 12:9-10), to Gehazi (the greedy servant of the prophet Elisha: “The leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and your descendants forever"-II Kings 5: 27) and to King Uzziah (for burning incense in the Temple, a right reserved for priests, Chronicles 26:19), supported this Jewish belief that leprosy was God’s punishment for sins.

Mosaic restrictions on lepers: The Mosaic Law, as given in Leviticus 13:44-46, demands that a) the priest shall declare the leper unclean; b) the leper  shall keep his garments rent and his head bare; c) he shall muffle his beard; d) he shall cry out, 'Unclean, unclean’; and e) he shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.  The Book of Numbers (5:2-3) commands the Israelites "to put out of the camp everyone who is leprous."  Over 3000 words in Leviticus (chapters 13-14), govern the inspection of suspected lepers, their isolation, and the procedure for declaring the healed leper clean.  As a general rule, when a Jewish leper was healed, he had to go to the local priest for public confirmation that he was now clean and was permitted to return home and mix with the general public.

The parallels: The Fathers of the Church note three parallels between the Gospel story and the story of Naaman, the Gentile who was also healed of leprosy.  First, both Naaman and the Samaritan leper were foreigners who sought healing from a Godly Jew. Second, both were ordered to perform a small, seemingly irrelevant action.  Elisha told Naaman to bathe in the river Jordan seven times.  Jesus told the ten lepers to show themselves to the priest who could certify a healing.  In both stories, healing took place only after they left His presence to obey. Third, both Naaman and the Samaritan returned to praise God. 

 The Samaritan hero: This incident recounting the thankfulness of the cleansed Samaritan leper is narrated only in Luke's Gospel and provides an instance of Jesus holding up a non-Jew (Luke 17:18) as an example to his Jewish contemporaries. Moreover, it is the faith in Jesus manifested by the foreigner that has brought him salvation (Luke 17:19. (New American Bible notes).  Here a Samaritan is presented as the model of Faith and gratitude.  Luke was himself a Gentile, a foreigner, and so he delights in recounting stories of foreigners whom God has blessed.  A Samaritan is the hero of this episode.   The thanks and praise of the Samaritan was a natural response to the free and undeserved mercy of God.  The Samaritan knew that he was in the right place at the right time, and such an opportunity might never occur again for him. The Samaritan had not earned the kindness of God.  He simply asked for it--and it was freely given.  He knew he couldn't earn it; he was an outcast, a Samaritan.  Having accepted God's grace, thanks and praise was his natural response. Both the author of 2 Kings and the Evangelist Luke wanted to make an important theological point about outsiders. No story in all the Gospels so poignantly shows man's ingratitude.  The lepers came to Jesus with desperate longing, and the merciful Lord cured them.  But nine of them never came back to give thanks.

Ingratitude and gratitude:  In both the Old Testament and the New Testaments, God laments over man’s ingratitude.  “Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth, for the LORD speaks: Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me!  An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master's manger; But Israel does not know, My people have not understood. Ah! Sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children!  They have forsaken the LORD, spurned the Holy One of Israel and apostatized” (Isaiah; 1:2-4).  “He came to what was his own, but his own people 7 did not accept him” (John 1:11).  Hence, the Word of God invites us to be thankful.  At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me” (John 11:41).  St. Paul advises us: “Give thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:20). “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).  Psalms 107:1 advises us: "Give thanks to the LORD Who is good, whose love endures forever!" The medieval Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, suggests that if the only prayer we say in our lifetime is "Thank-You," that would suffice. “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” (Johannes A. Gaertner).  Are we, on a constant and consistent basis, offering our thanks to God by how we use our time, our talents, and our treasure as good stewards? "What is the chief goal of human life?" The Westminster Catechism asks in its opening question and answer. "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever," is the answer. A chief way we do that is by thanking God moment by moment for the gifts that God has lavished upon us.

Gratitude at the Holy Mass: Fr. Roger Landry beautifully explains the connection between the Holy Mass and Jesus’ thanksgiving.  Every Mass we’re called to grow in this spirit of thanksgiving, because the Eucharist is Jesus’ own prayer of Thanksgiving to the Father. The Greek word from which we derive the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” During the Mass, the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” Everyone responds, “It is right and just.” And then the priest replies with a saying of great theological depth: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and ever-living God.” It’s right, it’s just, it’s fitting, it’s appropriate for us to give God thanks, “always and everywhere.” Before Jesus said the words of consecration on the night he would be betrayed, on the vigil of his crucifixion, he took bread and, as we’ll hear anew today, “gave thanks.” He gave thanks, because it is right always and everywhere, our duty and our salvation, to do so. He gave thanks because he was constantly thanking the Father. He gave thanks because he knew that the Father would bring the greatest good out of the greatest evil of all time which would happen to him after the Mass was done. He gave thanks because it would be through his passion, death and resurrection, that Jesus would institute the means by which we would be able to enter into his own relationship with the Father. The Mass is the school in which we participate in Jesus’ own thanksgiving, the thanksgiving the Church makes continuously from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Life Messages: 1) We need to learn to be thankful to God and to others. Often, we are ungrateful to God.  Although we receive so much from Him, we often take it for granted, without appreciating His gifts.  We allow the negatives of our lives to hide from ourselves the blessings we have received -- minor negatives like some health problems, financial worries, conflict with a neighbor or co-worker or spouse.    Besides, we are often thankful only when we compare ourselves with less fortunate people.  In times of need, we pray with desperate intensity; but as time passes, we forget God.  Many of us fail to offer a grace before meals or allot a few minutes of the day for family prayer.  God gave us his only Son, but we seldom give Him a word of thanks.  Often, we are ungrateful to our parents and consider them a nuisance, although in the past we were dependent on them for literally everything.  Similarly, we owe a great debt of gratitude to our friends, teachers, doctors, pastors--but we often fail to thank them.  Hence, in the future, let us be filled with daily thanksgiving to God and to others for the countless gifts we have received.  Let us show our gratitude to our forgiving God by forgiving others, and to a loving God by radiating His love, mercy and compassion to others.

2) We need to celebrate the Holy Eucharist as the supreme act of thanksgiving:  The Greek word “Eucharist” means profoundly religious and thoroughly spiritual “thanksgiving.”  Thanksgiving is the attitude we should adopt in worshipWhen we celebrate Holy Mass together, we are thanking God for the great gift of His Son whose sacrifice formed us into the People of God.  We thank God for the gift of the Spirit, through Whom we bring the presence of the Lord to others.  Saying thanks to God together with the parish community, sharing our time, talents and material blessings in the parish and sharing the Heavenly Bread of Thanksgiving, the Holy Eucharist, are the simple forms of thanksgiving we can offer every Sunday in response to God's blessings.  

3) Let us realize the truth that we all need healing from our spiritual leprosy. Although we may not suffer from physical leprosy, the “spiritual leprosy" of sin makes us unclean.  Jesus is our Savior who wants to heal us from this leprosy of sin.  Since Jesus is not afraid to touch our deepest impurities, let us not hide them.  Just as the lepers cried out to Jesus for healing, let us also ask Him to heal us from the spiritual leprosy of sins including impurity, injustice, hatred and prejudice.  (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

10 October 2019, 15:11