28th Sunday, Ordinary Time

Oct 13, 2019

In a Kentucky park in the summer of 2000, a woman was helping a friend plant a large number of trees. Each tree was donated by family members in remembrance of a loved one. While they were working, a woman approached them. They both assumed the woman was coming over to thank them for all the work they had done over the last few days. “Remember the tree you planted for me the other day?” she asked. They both nodded. “You planted it too close to the road. It needs to be moved.” Of the twenty three trees they planted, only two people came up to say “Thank You.”
In March of 2004, a South African man came home to find nine men robbing his house. Eight of them got away, but he managed to push one of them into his pool. He soon realized the robber couldn’t swim so he quickly rescued him. Upon being rescued, the robber pulled a knife on the man. The homeowner pushed him back in the pool.
I’m not sure what ultimately happened to that robber, but our readings today present us with an important reminder that he forgot. In our first reading and our gospel, we have the disease of leprosy, its cure, and the responses of those cured. Contracting leprosy was not a good thing. Many different skin diseases fell under this umbrella term, and all meant banishment from family and livelihood. Lepers lived outside of towns, often in wilderness areas. Camps of these unfortunate individuals would sometimes arise. It was a slow progressive disease that caused great disfigurement. Sometimes, cures did happen, but it was rare.
In our gospel today, Jesus is making his final trip to Jerusalem. I’m sure he was beginning to think of all he was about to accomplish and suffer there. He crosses paths with a group of lepers. As I mentioned, leper colonies would not have been uncommon. They petitioned Jesus from a distance which they were required by the Jewish Law to do. There is nothing unusual in this scene until Jesus tells them to go to the priests. Those who are cured from leprosy must first go show themselves to the Jewish priests. The priests note the cure and allow the cured to reenter the community. Somewhere along the way, all ten are cured. One leper who happens to be a Samaritan returns to thank Jesus.
In our first reading, we have something similar. As a little background, Naaman is a famous Syrian general. He probably has defeated Israelite armies during his career. Now however, he has been struck by leprosy. His Israelite servant girl tells him to seek the assistance of the Israelite prophet Elisha. He does that and follows Elisha’s direction to wash himself in the Jordan River seven times. He is cured and returns to Elisha to give thanks.
The Samaritan leper and Naaman have a few things in common. They are both foreigners. They both received cures. Most importantly, they did not forget to give thanks for the grace they received from God. Taking the time to give thanks and showing gratefulness is the message these readings are teaching us today. It seems like such a small thing, but I think it is something we can easily forget.
What can we learn then from the Samaritan and Naaman that we can take with us this week? They both showed an incredible amount of humility. The Samaritan returned to Jesus and fell at his feet. That is the most humbling of positions, especially for a foreigner to do this to the Jewish Jesus. Namaan, the great Syrian general, now refers to himself as Elisha’s servant, swears off his old gods, and binds himself forever to the one God. The mule loads of Israeli earth he takes with him symbolizes this pledge. He is going to build a worship space to God on top of the earth from God’s country.
There is something else going on here though that is a little more subtle. They both have experienced something supernatural- a cure from beyond the realm of normal human experience. They both came to the realization that there is something out there bigger than themselves. They may not know exactly what it is. In their own limited way, they are going to acknowledge it, God, and thank it for the help received.
I’m not sure why the other nine lepers didn’t return. They had to have been thankful. After leaving the priest, they may have rushed home to spouses and children they thought they would never see again. Others may have been so excited they wanted to jump right back into life again. There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things. Could they have missed the enormity of what just happened to them? Naaman didn’t miss it. It is interesting what Jesus said to the Samaritan. “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Ten were cured. That’s what they wanted. Was only one saved? Surely, they were not thinking about or looking for salvation that day. However, that is exactly what one of them got.
The challenge for us then is to make sure we take the time and have a humble enough spirit to respond thankfully to those who help us during our days. It could be something as simple as a wave to those who let us into traffic. It could be an acknowledgement to those who have been our guiding lights. Very few of us have gotten to where we are in life on our own. For some, our parents or other close relatives made sure we did what was right. Many of us have close friends, co-workers, or other individuals who have put in that little bit extra to give us a break or an opportunity. Let’s never be so busy or so focused on ourselves that we don’t take the time to say “Thank You”.
Just as important, let’s not forget that as we go through life there is something bigger than us out there. Jesus’ offer of himself for us on the cross makes our salvation possible. His actions on our behalf were not limited to 2,000 years ago. He will make himself available to us in a few minutes through the sacrament of the Eucharist. In the same way he was for Naaman and the Samaritan, Jesus is also present in the events of our daily lives. How did we ever get through that difficult event or the loss of that loved one? How did we ever succeed beyond even what we thought was possible? What made that special blessing possible? Look for Jesus in all of it.
That can be true even in our current struggles and blessings. All of this takes a humble disposition. It also takes a realization that we are not 100% in control. Regardless of what we are going through or what season of life we are in, let’s never forget to say a “Thank You” to God. If circumstances ever make this a struggle, one of the best resources is the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament. Many of them start with complaints to God, then give thanks, go back to complaints, and finally end in Thanksgiving. They really are faith journeys we can relate to.
In the end then, let’s stay away from the dispositions of the tree lady and the water logged thief. Let’s be Naaman and the Samaritan. Salvation is waiting there for us.

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