28th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: 2 Kings 5:14-17 Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-13 Gospel Reading: Luke 17:11-19
“IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, LET US GIVE THANKS.”
One day, so says an old legend, God gave a banquet for all his servants, and a really grand feast it was. All the virtues came and had a fine time. Humility was there, sitting in the lowest place at the table. Patience was there and didn't mind at all being served last. Faith and Hope sat together on one side, while Justice and Peace sat together on the other side. Everyone was having a wonderful time.
At the height of the banquet, Charity noticed that two of the virtues were strangers to each other. He was surprised because he thought they were always together and he had purposely placed them side by side for that reason. He came down to them and asked each one whether she had met her partner before. When they said they had not, Charity introduced them, “Kindness, I want you to meet Gratitude.” Both the virtues were so surprised to find out who the other was. Kindness said to gratitude, “We are supposed to be together always. Where one of us is, the other should be. Isn't it a pity that we have never really met before.”
Yes, Kindness and Gratitude are supposed to be together always. Where one is, there the other should also be.
Today is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Now, there are a number of concurrent and related themes running through today’s Scripture Readings; but the main theme they present is the theme of gratitude that should come spontaneously from the heart of every individual. A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues. Gratitude is like a rare flower found in a wintry landscape. It is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. But our human nature tends to take for granted favors and gifts, especially those that come from God. Today we are called to be a grateful people; “In all circumstances, let us give thanks.”
BOUNDLESS GRATITUDE OF NAAMAN, THE SYRIAN:
In the First Reading of today from the 2nd Book of Kings, we have the cure of Naaman, the Syrian, from leprosy and we see the expression of his boundless gratitude to God for giving him the healing through the Prophet Elisha. Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram (Syria), was a great man and in high favor with his master. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy; and as a gentile pagan he thought he had the gods at his beck and call. But none of them could cure his chronic skin disease. Seeing her master's desperation, an Isrealite slave girl belonging to Naaman’s wife, told her that she knew of a prophet in Israel named Elisha who could cure her husband’s skin infections. Hurriedly, Naaman got permission and a letter from his king to go to the king of Israel and find this prophet. When he finally talked to Elisha, Elisha told him to go wash himself 7 times in the waters of the Jordan. Now the Jordan was a small dirty river at that time. Naaman was not happy with this. Because he was an important general, he expected that Elisha could just wave his hand and cure him and he wouldn’t have to do anything. However, having first despised the simple action of washing 7 times in the river Jordan, he was convinced by his servants to try it, since he had nothing to lose.
He was so desperate - the skin disease, his leprosy, threatened to consume him - that he did something courageous. He swallowed his pride and did go and bathe 7 times; and he was rewarded with health, his skin becoming soft and clean like a child´s. This is where our First Reading today begins.
Full of joy and boundless gratitude, Naaman sought to bestow upon Elisha, God´s prophet, the treasures that he had brought with him. But Elisha refuses payment, knowing full well that his power to heal was totally God's gift. However, Naaman is so grateful that he asks for two mule-loads of dirt with which to set up an altar in his own homeland to the God of Elisha and promised he would make no offerings to any god but the God of Israel. The Lord used this miracle to attract Naaman to the true religion. This was a much greater gift than health of the body. The cure made him a believer in the God of Israel. As soon as Naaman realized he was cured, he exclaimed, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” Thus a foreigner becomes a model of faith to God’s chosen people.
DEEP GRATITUDE OF THE SAMARITAN LEPER:
In the Gospel Reading of Today, St. Luke presents a similar story of the ten lepers who were cleansed by Jesus. We are touched by the mercy and kindness of Jesus who reaches out to the outcasts of society such as the lepers and at the same time we are reminded of the insensitivity in human persons while receiving a favor from a benefactor. Actually, the problem is more than skin deep. In the ancient world, leprosy was considered a dreaded disease. The person with leprosy was segregated from the community and had to live outside the village or town in isolation. They had to keep a distance from people at least fifty feet whenever they came out and if they saw anyone, they had to shout 'leper, leper, ...' lest the other person be contaminated.
a) “Ten lepers were cured.”
The story is set on the borders of Judea and Samaria. Nine of the lepers seem to have been Judeans, while one was a Samaritan. This is a religious difference as well as a racial one. It is interesting to note here that while the Jewish people normally did not mix with the Samaritans, misery brings them together. Here is an example of a great law of life: A common misfortune had broken down the racial and national barriers. In the common tragedy of their leprosy they had forgotten that they were Jews and Samaritans but people in need of help.
In this story of a miraculous healing, Jesus encounters the ten lepers and when they see Jesus they stand at a great distance and shout for help. Jesus cleanses them all without discrimination. Jesus does not touch them as he does elsewhere and work the miracle. Instead he sends them to the priests to perform the necessary ceremony and get a declaration to be accepted back into society. Their disease did not disappear on the spot as was the case with other cures. He tested their faith and they received the healing as they went along the road.
b) “Only one returned, and he was a Samaritan.”
Finding himself cured, one returned “praising God at the top of his voice,” threw himself at the feet of Jesus and expressed his deepest thanks for what had happened to him. And “The man was a Samaritan.” Much of the punch of the story is in those five words. As a Samaritan, he belonged to a hated and despised group. In this case, he was an outcast twice over. His primary response was not first to thank Jesus, but first to glorify God and then thank Jesus. Even though Jesus did not look for gratitude from them, yet as any human person he feels the ingratitude of the other nine who seem to have forgotten the blessings they received.
c) “Where are the other nine?”
No story in the gospel shows so emphatically the ingratitude of human persons. In astonishment and obvious hurt, Jesus asked – “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” This alien, this outsider and, by implication, this godless pagan, a person who is presumed to be far from God, is the one who is most deeply aware of God’s action in his life. Here the Lord appreciates his faith and the sense of gratitude. He is now told to go his way and need not go to any one because of his great faith and trust.
d) “Rise up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.”
The Gospel account of the healing of the Ten Lepers presents us not only with another compassionate act of Jesus’ healing, but also an example of a faith that leads to gratitude, glory and praise. Jesus points out that the Samaritan leper has gained something far more important than a physical cure; he has gained his eternal salvation. So he says to the grateful leper, “Rise up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.” The man is called to resurrection, to new life and to walk the Way of Jesus. His deep insight into his healing has been a saving experience for him. There is far more here than physical healing. The whole person has been fully restored in his relationships both with God and with his neighbors and the community.
ALL-TIME GRATITUDE OF ST. PAUL:
St. Paul is another example of a man who was on the wrong path in life, persecuting Christians, but who received the infinite gift of faith because of the Lord´s mercy. He is never remiss in giving thanks for his conversion, his faith and experience of God´s love and the promise of eternal life in Christ.
In the Second Reading of today from his Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul demonstrates his gratitude for God´s gift of faith through his suffering to the point of being cast in prison in fidelity to Jesus Christ. He exhorts Timothy to have confidence in God and persevere in the work of preaching the Gospel. He offers all that he undergoes for those whom God wants to save through Christ, that they too might receive the gifts for which he is so grateful. St. Paul teaches us that gratitude to God is more than just a sentiment. It is an attitude that leads us to action; i.e. to share our faith and knowledge of God with those who don´t know him or have not experienced his love. Truly, an apostolic heart is the natural flowering of the virtue of gratitude.
St. Paul concludes by saying that if we die with him we will also be raised with him, if we deny him he will also deny us and our fidelity to him is essential to live the fullness of life. The Lord is faithful to us even if we are unfaithful to him. Our perseverance in the living faith, in whatever the Lord God permits to come our way for our sanctification, will be our assurance of salvation. Our perseverance is one of the many ways of saying thanks to God for what He has given us.
Are we grateful people? The word of God today tells us that we all need to be grateful to God every day of our lives for the graces and good gifts we have received in and through him. “In all circumstances, let us give thanks.” God has not only given us our life with all its joys and sorrows, but He has prepared for us a future life of joy and happiness. We often fail to acknowledge the good He has done for us. What is needed in our life is recognition of the good and expression of gratitude towards God and all persons who come to us as instruments of God.
Now, gratitude may seem obvious and easy, but it is not. It not only involves going out of our way, but it requires humility. This Gospel story of 'the forgetful lepers' challenges us with how easy it is to fall into the ways of ingratitude. We may not be physically suffering from leprosy; but our ingratitude to God and others is a sign of our spiritual leprosy. Unfortunately, the problem of ungratefulness, our spiritual leprosy, is universal. It is sad that to our hurt and the disappointment of God, many of us travel through life without a thankful heart towards God and others.
Again, the way of faith is to ever return, glorifying him for what he has given, and we will find that he always has even more to give, and that leads to more thanksgiving from us. So, let our faith in Jesus be shown by what we do, by what we ask, and by how we thank. Do we have the faith of the Samaritan? Do we believe that by going to Jesus we are going to God, and do we thank God for all that we have been given? We call our Liturgy, ‘Eucharist' - it is a Greek word for thanksgiving. Let's thank Him during this Eucharist then for being who He is for us, and for our being who we are for Him. “IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, LET US GIVE THANKS.” And this is the Good News of today.