Homily for the Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 9)
Today’s readings are about faith, ‘coming back” and expressing thanks.
The healing we read about in the First Reading today of leprosy had a very specific purpose. The person with leprosy was Naaman who was a high ranking, successful military man, but he was not a Jew. He was from Syria. His servant girl who was presumably a Hebrew slave told him of a man who lived near the Jordan River who was a prophet and a healer.
Not having any other choice but to submit to the terrible disease, he took large amounts of riches with him to pay Elisha to try to heal him.The Hebrew King was very mistrusting of the motives of Naaman and had no belief in Elisha’s ability to pull off a healing of leprosy. No one can do that, he thought.
But Elisha said that God had a purpose in this event, and let the man, Naaman, come.
But, even so, Elisha was not very neighborly to the alien. He didn’t even greet him or meet him. Instead, he sent a message to Naaman to go wash seven times in the river Jordan, apparently nothing more than a ditch at that point in time.
At first Naaman was very angry the inhospitality and he railed that he could bathe in much cleaner waters at home and be treated with more kindness. He started to go back home, angry, but his servant girl, the same one who had suggested Elisha, convinced him to do what Elisha said. She wanted him to have faith in Elisha.
So, having few other options, he did what Elisha said, bathed 7 times, and amazingly, his flesh was healed. Needless to say he was very grateful and offered all his gifts and riches to Elisha, who refused to take anything, even after Naaman begged him to.
Finally, Naaman, impressed with Elisha’s ability and honesty, and in return was covered to pay honor to the one Hebrew God. So, Elisha, a prophet, knew that this act could bring someone to God, could give them faith in the one God.
Faith is a difficult concept to explain, and it has a couple of meanings for us. We use it in the sense of Faith of our Ancestors when we say we believe in a body of teaching, when we recite the Creed, when we come to a Eucharist. But faith is also a strong belief in something whether we have proof or not. This kind of faith is often seen as a gift, a grace. Certainly the martyrs who died for Jesus had that kind of faith.
St. Paul in the second reading also had that kind of faith. “Remember Jesus Christ,” he says, “that is my Gospel for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal.”It takes great faith to put your life on line. Yet Jesus said last week that we only needed even a little to do anything. And even if we have no faith, Paul says, “[God] remains faithful-“ to us! waiting perhaps for that little thing in our lives which will restore our faith.
The Gospel reading is about the faith of the one Samaritan also healed of leprosy who returns to Jesus because of faith in him. Interesting that both of the main characters in our stories today were not Jews, but foreigners. Jesus tells the ex-leper that his faith in God has made him well.
The ones who were supposed to have great faith the Hebrew lepers never bothered to come back, but only fulfilled the legal obligations of going to the Temple to be examined.
Remember again that all this happens to Jesus as we are told at the beginning of the reading, as he was on his way to Jerusalem. That needs to always be the context of this section of Luke and he never lets us forget it. The events in Jerusalem are immanent.
This healing story can be seen in two distinct parts. We are on the border between Samaria and Galilee. The lepers who by law need to stay away from people would often beg at a distance for food. Jesus doesn’t go up to them and touch them and doesn’t heal them, but simply says for them to go show themselves to the priest and the healing happens presumably when they are on their way. It is their obedience to Jesus and the law which heals them.
Now we have a problem here, don’t we? In the second part of the story the Samaritan could not go to the Temple – he was a foreigner. He starts off, but on that realization, he turns back to thank Jesus and fall on his knees before him in gratitude. But there is something at work here because all of them were healed. Why is it that Jesus comments on this leper’s faith and not the others? The translation may throw us off here. When Jesus uses the term “You’re faith has made you well”, that term “made you well” is the same in Aramaic as is translated “has saved you.” So is Jesus really commenting on the fact that he is coming to save all people, not just the Jews. I think so.
If we go back to the fact that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to his death, we are gradually seeing the Jews as ungrateful and unaccepting of Jesus. Nine never came back to thank him. So what we have here is a healing story and a salvation by faith story. Now how can we apply this to ourselves?
It might simply be that we can’t take our faith for granted. Some of us have a great deal of faith, some just a little. Whatever amount of faith we have, we need to be thankful for it. Eucharist means “thanksgiving”. It is the community of the faithful’s way of thanking God for their gift of faith. This week I would like you to look at your understanding and dedication in coming to Mass for the major purpose of praising and thanking God. Yes, I know we try to make it a social and communal event, a feel-good experience, but it isn’t really about us. We take missing Mass quite lightly in CACINA, it seems to me. Almost anything can trump going to Mass these days. But what we are doing in coming to Mass is showing our thankfulness in community, re-enacting as Jesus asked, his memorial meal and making holy the Sabbath which has often gone but he wayside but is still one of the original Ten Commands of God. Are we the one who came back, or are we of the nine who are thankful, but often turn our backs?
These readings can be Good News for us in showing how God wants not only our thanks, but wants to save us as well as he did the Samaritan. The two are interrelated: we give thanks and are saved, we are saved and we give thanks. God bless.
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]