28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading for this weekend is from the Second Book of Kings. Originally these two books were one volume, but as the centuries passed, and as editors dealt with the Scriptures, the one volume was divided into two. This is the situation that pertains today in the editions of the Bible.
As the name implies, these two books concentrate upon the kings of Israel. It must always be remembered, however, that the purpose of all the books of the Old Testament was to teach a religious lesson. Such was the purpose even of the historical books, of which Kings were two.
The central figure in this reading is Naaman, a pagan and, coincidentally, a leper. He is an unlikely representative of righteousness. Naaman recognizes his own helplessness, left to the dire consequences of his illness.
God healed him. Understandably grateful, he offers a gift to Elisha. Elisha refuses to accept it, because God cannot be bribed. His mercy is for all. Things of the earth, often so precious to us, in fact mean nothing. But it was hard for Naaman, entrapped by human logic, to grasp what Elisha’s refusal meant.
As was the case last week, the Second Epistle to Timothy is the source of the second reading.
Timothy was Paul’s convert and disciple. Paul felt the special obligation of reinforcing Timothy’s Christianity and Timothy’s role as a bishop. In this reading, Paul reminded Timothy that his vocation was to serve God by preaching the Gospel of Christ. Meeting the demands of his own vocation came at no small price for Paul. He writes that he is in chains. Eventually, Paul would pay the ultimate price by giving his life as a martyr.
St. Luke’s Gospel once again furnishes the third reading. It is a fairly familiar story. Passing along the border between Galilee and Samaria, roughly the boundary in today’s terms between Israel and the West Bank, Jesus met 10 lepers. They implored him to cure them. Mercifully, Jesus did. They hurried away, shouting in delight. Only one man, a Samaritan, returned to thank the Lord.
Today, scientifically it is not known which disease was the “leprosy” mentioned in the Gospels. Regardless, it is clear that persons afflicted with this malady suffered greatly. As the illness was assumed to be highly contagious, they were spurned, subject to a strict, and even heartless, quarantine, and forced to live as outcasts. In a society without any social services, they were very vulnerable, and utterly alone in every respect.
Hebrew tradition required persons cured of this illness to give thanks to God in some public ritual. Thus, Jesus expected the cured lepers in this incident to give thanks. Nine did not give thanks.
Jews avoided Samaritans. Jews regarded Samaritans with contempt. That these lepers accepted a Samaritan into their company underscored their outcast status. His joining them showed his status and desperation.
Yet this Samaritan was the only one of the ten to follow the Hebrew tradition and thank God.
The first and third readings speak of cures and of responses to cures. The illnesses were physical. God cured the illness and also healed the souls of the lepers mentioned in Luke, including the Samaritan, but only the contemptable Samaritan was grateful.
Always, God reaches out with healing and strength. He heals our souls. He gives us strength and insight that are otherwise beyond us. The problem is that we, like the nine lepers who walked away, forget God. Like Naaman, we judge by human standards.
We all are outcasts if we are sinners, but we choose to set ourselves outside God’s by sinning. We always may come back to God, however. It may require fortitude, but God will provide strength and insight if we humbly ask for them.
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