Peace be with you on this our celebration of the Mass for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary time. So, today is all about saying thank you to God right – or is there more? The Gospel reading itself almost sounds like a parable Jesus might use for teaching, doesn’t it? I mean wow, nine of the ten lepers cured by Jesus of the most dreaded disease known don’t even come back and say “thank you.” How strange is that? And oh, by the way, the one and only clean leper that does come back glorifying God and giving thanks, just happens to be one of those despicable Samaritans. Well, maybe we do have another lesson to contemplate here besides what appears to be the obvious one of thanking God for a miracle? I mean Jesus, the Jewish teacher, isn’t even supposed to talk to a Samaritan let alone cure his illnesses.
Then in the first reading from the 2nd Book of Kings, we have another hated outsider being cured of leprosy. It’s not completely obvious unless you read the whole scene from 2nd Kings Chapter 5 but this Naaman guy, we just heard about, is actually a Syrian General and so, another non-Jew and consequently, another outsider. In the story his servant, who just happens to be a slave captured from Israel, convinces him to go see the Prophet Elisha to cure his leprosy. Again, the message here is not his miraculous cure but his confession of faith when he says; “I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except the Lord.” Ultimately, he takes home two mule loads of Israel’s dirt so he can worship Israel’s God on Israel’s home soil. Naaman’s profession of faith, coupled with the Gospel, when we hear Jesus telling the unnamed Samaritan, also cured of leprosy; “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you” might be an indication there is a message other than two stories of miraculous cures.
You see, both are also stories of salvation and faith of people who are outsiders or on the fringe. The Samaritan would be considered a complete outcast, absolutely hopeless, and a total non-person in the 1st Century Jewish society. Do you think there could be something to contemplate, like the foreign alien or repulsive stranger we want to ignore; the forgotten man or woman, the disgusting one, or the desperate one? While meditating on these scriptures and this topic, remember this also, some part deep within ourselves may be that outsider or rejected outcast as well. So, whether the outcast is actually another individual who we habitually reject and turn our backs on or someone deep within ourselves, might I suggest we try to develop some qualities to help us welcome the outcast exactly as Jesus taught.
The first quality, oddly enough, is gratitude. A grateful person is usually the one who does not take anything for granted. Such people have an eye to see what is being done for them. They recognize the long preparations before they sit down to eat! The careful planning before a family reunion or a parish picnic makes them appreciate the unnamed workers behind the scenes. These grateful people discover what most of us overlook and then, they express their joy and appreciation.
Grateful people are usually optimistic people also. They can anticipate the good which others are capable of doing. All ten of the lepers saw in Jesus the kindly person capable and willing to heal their disease. Similarly, some people have the wonderful insight to see and encourage great potential in others. They can turn the useless outcast into a “miracle worker.” They thus make it possible for others to find themselves. This kind of optimism, perhaps, is what Jesus meant by faith, faith in others as gifted by God. Jesus addressed the Samaritan; “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you.”
By optimism then, we are disposed to recognize talents and qualities in others, which many have been overlooking when categorizing them as “outsiders.” Moreover, with all the more enthusiasm we honor this hidden part of them when we attribute the gift to God’s generosity. The Samaritan “came back praising God.” Naaman declared that his cure shows “there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” Such praise of God not only enhances the hidden gift in the other person, but it also gives a note of urgency to act upon it.
A good memory is also important to recognize the outsider and to allow this hidden aspect of ourselves or of others to reach full potential. Memory is the ability to draw upon the best of one’s own life and one’s own tradition. Memory says: look what wonderful things you have already done; this proves you can still do more, so don’t give up. Memory is at the heart of biblical religion as we recall God’s great redemptive acts and hear the greatest of all repeated during the Mass as the Priest says; “do this in remembrance of me.”
Finally, as I when I started today, we are often afraid to identify and face the stranger for fear of the demands upon us. At the very least the outsider will upset our schedule because often this castoff will require our attention. In some real way it imprisons us. It may even put upon us some of the outcast’s shame and humiliation. At the time of Jesus there was a real fear of becoming contaminated by the leper and made impure by the foreigner but ultimately,,, doesn’t Jesus’ Gospel message teach the exact opposite?
Our Christ like actions on earth enable the stranger and outcast to find themselves, their true self, and their hidden potential. What was hidden is found for eternal glory. Paul also infers the magnificent possibility that we who preach and live the gospel will rediscover that same gospel when; by gratitude, by faith, and by remembrance we bring to light God’s wonderful gifts hidden within ourselves and within others.
So, today’s readings mean much more than simply saying thank you to God for the many gifts we’re given. The deeper message here is one of recognizing, accepting, and maybe even embracing the outcast, whether that outcast is standing on the street corner or hidden in our own hearts. Then to accept that outcast or offer that embrace God has given each and every one of us unique human qualities we should continue to develop and nourish, they are; gratitude, optimism, remembrance, and most of all courage to live the gospel in faith.