28th Sunday in Ordinary time
The second book of Kings furnishes this weekend with its first Scriptural reading at Mass. The two books of Kings once were one volume, but as time passed, editors divided the volume into two parts.
They are among the historical writings in the Old Testament. As the name implies, they are interested in the careers of the early kings of Israel. However, none of the Old Testament is primarily about history or, in a certain light, about kings.
Instead, they are concerned with religion, and more precisely with the relationship between God and all the Hebrew people. In the view of the ancients, the most important question in life was how to live in faithfulness to God. Nothing else mattered.
So, while the kings are prominent in these books, religious figures too are much in evidence.
This weekend’s reading is an example. The central personality is not a king, but rather it is Naaman. Two strikes are against Naaman. He is a Gentile, and he is a leper. It was much more than a coincidence of birth, religious choice or bad luck when it came to health. In each case, it smacked of estrangement from God, and of affliction’s presence as a result of sin.
Naaman bathed in the Jordan River, that stream that formed the boundary between the Promised Land, overflowing with life, and the foreign world, filled with treachery and death because those who acknowledged God did not people it. Despite everything, he was cured.
He then went to thank God, represented by Elisha, the prophet.
For its second reading, the Church turns to the Second Epistle to Timothy. As in the recent past weeks, the epistle reassures and challenges Timothy, an early convert to Christianity, disciple of Paul, and bishop.
If anyone truly dies with Christ by dying to sin, then everlasting life with God is the reward.
St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. “Leprosy” occurs throughout the Scriptures. Obviously chronic, progressive, and then without any known cure, scholars in medicine now wonder exactly what it was. Regardless, it was a fearful fate.
Unaware of the workings of disease, ancient Jews saw a curse from God in leprosy. Somehow, somewhere, the leper had disobeyed God.
Fearing contagion, communities forced lepers to live apart. Lepers could have no communication whatsoever with those “clean” of leprosy.
Isolated, lepers were unproductive. They were forced to live lives of want to the point of starvation. This reading also has an ethnic component. Jews scorned Samaritans. Samaritans long ago had tolerated pagan invaders, and they had intermarried with the pagans, producing offspring that in themselves grievously compromised the identity of the people chosen by God. Much bigotry entered the picture. Jews thought that Samaritans were the worst of the worst, incapable of anything good.
Important here is the fact that Jesus heals and forgives. These actions belonged to God alone.
Presumably Jews, of God’s special people, nine of the lepers cured in this story from St. Luke’s Gospel tended to see themselves as entitled to God’s mercy and forgiveness.
However, the 10th leper, the Samaritan, had a clearer insight. He realized that he deserved nothing special. His ancestors had walked away from God.
Yet, Jesus cured and forgave him, because of the Samaritan’s faith. Thus, this leper hurried to thank Jesus.
By sinning we all have deserted God. We properly should be the victims of what we have done. However, with an unending love, as in the case of Naaman or the Samaritan leper, God cures us of the weakening effects of our sin, restores us to life, and welcomes us into the fold of those loyal to God.
However, the key to this happening is our own humility and our will to seek God.
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