Paul T. Keil
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 10-9-22, Year C
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 – or maybe there’s more. In the Gospel we heard a story almost sounding like a parable Jesus might use for teaching. I mean wow, nine of the ten lepers cured by Jesus of the most dreaded disease of the age don’t even bother to come back and say “thank you.” How strange is that? And oh, by the way, the one and only leper that does come back glorifying God and giving thanks for his cure, just happens to be one of those hated Samaritans. Do you think we might possibly have some lesson to contemplate here besides the obvious one of thanking God for a miracle?
And again, in the first reading from 2nd Kings, we have another feared and 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 is actually a Syrian General and so, another non-Jewish outsider. In the story a female slave, captured from Israel BTW, suggests Naaman go see the Prophet Elisha to be cured of leprosy. Ultimately the message here is not his miraculous cure however, 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 the Lord on Israel’s home soil. Naaman’s profession of faith, coupled with the Gospel, where we hear Jesus telling the unnamed Samaritan, also cured of leprosy; “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you” might be an indication the Church wants to send 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 at best, on the fringe of Jesus’ society. Do you think there could be a message here to contemplate, like the foreigner or stranger we habitually ignore or shun; the forgotten man or woman, the invisible one, or the desperate one? In meditating on these scriptures and this topic, it is helpful to remember this, somewhere deep within all of us is an outsider or rejected outcast as well. So, whether the outcast is another individual who we habitually reject, ignore, and turn our backs on, or is someone buried deep within ourselves, we probably all need a little help to identify and develop certain qualities, to embrace and welcome the stranger.
The first quality, strangely enough, is gratitude. To be grateful we first must be humble. Spiritually grateful people know everything is a gift. Such a person is usually one who does not take anything for granted. There are grateful even before they sit down to eat a meal, or they recognize and appreciate the unnamed volunteers behind the scenes for Church functions and activities. These people discover what many of us overlook and then, they express their joy and appreciation.
Grateful people are usually optimistic people. They can anticipate the good which others are capable of. 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 idle youth into a “miracle worker.” They make it possible for others to find themselves. This kind of optimism, is perhaps, 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 good dispositions in others, which many have been overlooking when categorizing them as “outsiders” in the first place. 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.
Finally, as I implied at the beginning today, we are often afraid to identify and face the stranger for fear of the demands on us. At the very least the outsider will upset our schedule because often this castoff will require 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 or by the non-Jewish foreigner but ultimately, didn’t Jesus’ Gospel message teach the exact opposite? Such was the situation of Paul when writing to Timothy from our second reading when he said; “Such is my gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal.” Paul immediately adds however; “But the word of God is not chained. Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory.”
We’re asked to enter that same suffering to enable the stranger and outsider 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 the gospel will discover that same gospel when; by gratitude, by faith, and by optimism 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 our many gifts. The deeper message here today is one of recognizing, accepting, and even embracing the outcast, whether they are425 standing on the street corner or hidden in our hearts. The hard part is however, when we recognize someone who can benefit from our gifts, Jesus wants us to give them away. Even when that someone is one of societies outcasts.