Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bringing Salvation

The Healing of Naaman
Readings for Sunday, October 13/ 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
2 Kings 5:14-17
Psalm 98:1-4
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

As we find ourselves in the thick of college football season, I am continually struck by the intense animosity and sometimes outright hatred that fans can have for other teams, especially major rivals from their conference. The constant back and forth that can go on between them is almost reminiscent of the fued that we find in the Scriptures between the Jewish people and the Samaritans, non-Jewish people in the area of Israel. These two people had a longstanding and deep-seated hatred of one another and did their best not to have to interact with each other in any real sense since each saw the other as inferior to themselves. That powerful wedge between these two people is the background that we have to be attentive to as we approach the readings today.

In the Second Book of Kings we hear the story of Naaman, a Samaritan, being cleansed from his leprosy through the advice of Elisha the Jewish prophet. The fact that these two were talking with one another is something that would have shocked and even angered many people of their day. But they put aside all the expectations, social stigma, and their own biases in order to come to experience something more profound. Naaman humbles himself to approach the Elisha, which shows the extent to which he desired to be freed from the leprosy. In turn we see Elisha humble himself and receive the leprous Samaritan, which would have been doubly cast aside from the Jewish people. And when the two of them set aside those things that often separate them, we see that miracles happen. First, Naaman is cleansed. But note also that this cleansing is a spiritual one too, as he walks away recognizing that it was the God of Israel who was responsible for it. He has a conversion experience, which is why he makes the odd request to have two mule-loads of dirt. Often people thought that gods were territorial – a god was powerful over a certain place – so to take two loads of dirt was to bring a piece of Israel with him to his homeland, that the Lord whom he had encountered might be with him and continue to be worshipped by him even in his own land. All because they were willing to humble themselves and take a chance.

That story also foreshadows the story we hear of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, this time with ten lepers being cleansed by the Lord. The leper who is nameless, a significant point which Luke places for us to be able to insert ourselves into the story, returns to Jesus alone rather than accompanied by the other nine after their healing. And from the words of Jesus it seems that this leper might have been the only one of the group that was not Jewish – he was a Samaritan. And yet he returns to the Lord and professes faith because he recognizes the miracle done and the One who had accomplished it, much like Naaman in the first reading. For this return the Lord speaks those blessed words to him, “Stand up and go. Your faith has saved you.” It wasn’t just faith that they would be healed that saved him – all ten had that faith, else they wouldn’t have gone to the priests as commanded – but rather the faith that led him to recognize the giver of the gift and return. Here too we encounter a person not of the Jewish faith encountering the God of Israel and experiencing a conversion of heart.

The actual chains from St. Paul's imprisonment in Rome
In his Second Letter to Timothy we heard St. Paul encourage him “Remember Jesus Christ…” This word from St. Paul is spoken to his brother to remind him of why we do what we do as Christians. It is not for our glory or pleasure, but the glory of God – Remember Jesus Christ. When things get difficult it is for us to be mindful of Christ Jesus, what He has done for us, and what we are called to do for Him. As Christians, and especially each of you as laity in the Church, the mission is to continue the work begun by the Lord. St. Paul writes, “I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.” He literally endured his imprisonment and sufferings in that time knowing that something good would come from it, and that something was that others would come to know salvation in Christ.

So the question remains for us: who are ‘the chosen ones’ of our own day? Like Naaman and the unnamed leper in the Gospel, there are many who are simply waiting to come into contact with the True God. That fact is clear by the empty seats in the church each weekend. Our community is large enough that we should be a full church each Mass, and yet we are not. There are souls in our community – friends, family, school mates, co-workers, neighbors - who are in need of an invitation to draw near to God, to encounter Him for themselves, and to find healing in whatever may ail them. What keeps us from reaching out to them? Naaman, Elisha, and others showed us that when we set aside everything in hopes for a miracle, sometimes they happen. So who are the chosen ones the Lord desires us to reach out to and help bring to salvation? And are we willing to bear all things that they might find it?