Sunday, October 13, 2013

Coming Clean (Thanksgiving Weekend, Sunday 28.C)

The title of this blog post is not the title of the homily that follows, even if it does bring to mind the "cleansing" or healing of the ten lepers in today's Gospel.

I'm coming clean about the source of my homily this Sunday. It is almost entirely paraphrased or quoted from someone else. When I read the commentary on today's readings from Father Mariano Perrón from Madrid, I liked his thoughts so much that I decided I couldn't improve on them. So all I really did was change the style of his comments to suit the spoken word.

(Needless to say, I'm responsible for the revised content--and hope that Father Perrón will forgive me the liberty I have taken!)

But I am not telling you this only for honesty's sake! The reason I was looking at Father Perrón's words in the first place is that I get his reflections every week by e-mail as part of a free Lectio Divina resource provided by the American Bible Society. Every Tuesday the ABS e-mails me the Lectio for the coming Sunday and even sends a reminder on Thursday.

Although the ABS is a largely Protestant organization, this resource follows the Lectionary Catholics use. (The text of the Gospel provided is from the Good News Translation, which the ABS publishes.) By chance, I was in Manhattan in 2010 when the Society launched this initiative with a presentation to the priests of the Archdiocese of New York.

I don't know anything about Father Perrón, but I've found his commentaries very challenging and fresh. They can either be used for the stated purpose of Lectio Divina (if you don't know what that is, click here or here or here) or just to prepare for Sunday Mass (or writing homilies!).

Subscribing is easy: there is a box on the website.

And now for the homily....

The first reading this morning is not our first meeting with Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army. He appeared in the Sunday Gospel last February, when Jesus mentioned him in his homily at the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30).

On that occasion, Naaman was a sign of God’s universal mercy, which was not limited to the people of Israel but embraced Gentiles as well.

And lepers aren’t new to our Sunday readings, either. Last year, one of the first signs performed by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel (4:40-43) was the healing of a leper, which showed that his presence meant liberation from legal impurity and social and religious isolation.

Nor are Samaritans unfamiliar to us. We heard the parable of the Good Samaritan back in July, where one of these foreigners was a sign of mercy and a model of compassion (Luke 10:25-37).

Today we meet a man who is both a Samaritan and a leper. This is a very bad combination in Israel. He is both officially unclean and outside. But like Naaman and the Good Samaritan, he has a lot to teach us.

The basic message, of course, is plain and simple: gratitude is the attitude God expects from anyone who has received a gift from Him. And what better time to hear that message than Thanksgiving weekend? The timing of these readings is a very happy coincidence.

However, the Gospel always offers more than a basic message if we spend a bit of time looking. Notice that Jesus is on “his way to Jerusalem.” We know what that means: Jesus is on his way to the place of his suffering, death and resurrection. By his parables and formal teaching and signs he intends to show who and what he is.

And notice where he meets the group of lepers: as he goes through the region between Samaria and Galilee. They are in “no man’s land,” rejected by the inhabitants of both territories. It’s that, as well as their physical illness, that moves Jesus to mercy.

The leper is more than grateful: he is a model of faith and understanding. He “gets it.” When he sees that he is healed, he understands what happened, and returns “praising God.” This is what the shepherds did when they saw the baby Jesus at Bethlehem (Luke 2:20).

Though ten lepers were healed but only the Samaritan is able to understand and respond in faith and gratitude. That is why Jesus tells him: “Your faith has made you well.”

For Naaman, too, his physical healing implied something more than just gratitude. From that moment on, he will not offer sacrifices “to any god except the Lord” and the loads of earth he takes with him are a sign of his allegiance to the God of Israel.

The Samaritan leper and the Syrian commander are standout examples of faith and thanksgiving, and they might make us feel weak and ungrateful by comparison. But our second reading shows that even if we are disloyal, forgetful and unfaithful, Jesus will never turn away from us or forget his promises. We can reject him; He cannot reject us. And that is a very good reason to be thankful.

How do we begin to receive the healing God wants for us? (Which most often is inner healing—the physical healings of the Bible are usually signs, not simply manifestations of God’s love.) The first step is to recognize and admit our sicknesses, addictions and shortcomings. All too often we ignore the roots of our problems or pretend they do not exist.

Naaman knew what the matter was. He knew his disease was incurable, but as soon as he heard there was a healing prophet in a foreign land, he started packing for the journey.

The ten lepers in today’s Gospel had more than one problem. They were both sick and discriminated against. But they were ready to shout for help, asking for a sign of mercy and compassion from Jesus.

Do we share their awareness about our own innermost “disease”? Do we approach the Lord with such boldness and confidence? When compared with the Samaritan, are we conscious of the gifts we constantly receive from the Lord? Or do we take for granted all the generous blessings that have been poured upon us in our lives? How often do we praise and say “thank you” to the Lord?

For the Samaritan leper, healing meant more than being born again to normal life; he was born again to faith in Jesus. He was a new man in every respect. Some of us may have experienced the kind of healing that left us feeling like a new creature—perhaps it was healing from a serious illness, or an addiction, or a deep crisis. But all of us have 1001 reasons to be thankful to the Lord, who has given us this life and promised that we will live and reign with him in the next.

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