Twenty-eight Sunday in Ordinary Time: 10-9-16
Peace be with You,
Last weekend we were treated to the beautifully refreshing, though be it challenging, message that we were created good. This was indicated by the fact that Our Lord told us, that after we do everything we have been told to do, e.g. forgive endlessly, have trust in our God without measure, and be charitable to those around us, especially those most in need, we should count ourselves as having done nothing extraordinary, but simply as having done what is normal to someone who has been created in the image and likeness of God, and thus, by virtue of creation, is good. The readings we hear this weekend exhort us not to take this reality for granted, but rather to give thanks always in the fact that we have ‘been fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14).
Our first reading from the 2nd Book of Kings and the gospel reading from Luke, both tell stories of healing, specifically the healing of lepers. The elements of the stories tell us two very important things, serving as an allegorical representation of the universal human condition. First, the fact that these individuals are ill (Naaman in the first reading, and the ten lepers in the gospel) indicate the incompleteness of our current state. This is readily observable in all of our lives. Any sickness we experience or see others experience seems to fly in the face of what we intuitively know we have been created for. Deep within us we know that we have not been created for the debilitating impact of illness. This intuition is only more firmly expressed in our revulsion towards death. There is simply something about death that seems so unnatural, so unjust. In short, we know that we were meant to live, and, when faced by personal illness, or the illness of a loved one, we ask why! Even in our moments of unbelief, we demand an explanation for this revolting reality and we too cry out to our God demanding a response, echoing the lepers in the gospel, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Taking into consideration our natural inclination towards life, and the unseemliness of death, we find the leprous condition of these individuals to have an explanatory function. As lepers, these individuals would have been outcasts from Jewish society, considered unclean, both medically and religiously/socially. Though the illness of these individuals would have preceded their expulsion from society, their social status allegorically serves an epidemiological function (i.e. it explains to us why it is that we are prone to illness), by connecting illness to societal estrangement. Last week, we saw that we have been created to make present to the world the life of the God in Whose image we have been created by living lives of self-giving love, forgiveness, and trust in God. By doing so, we demonstrate that what it means to live fully human lives can only be done by living in unity with God, Who Is a Triune communion of Divine Persons. In order to do so, however, we must first take steps to be re-incorporated into this Divine Communion.
We do so at baptism. In our first reading, we see Naaman plunging himself in the Jordan seven times, having received instruction from the prophet Elisha to do so (2 Kings 5:10 & 14). The fact that Elisha instructed Naaman to bathe in the Jordan River seven times should not go unnoticed by us. First, water itself is a life-giving source, without water, we die. This bathing in water is also a foreshadowing of baptism, where plunged into the water we become alive in the Spirit of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Lastly, the number seven is the number of completion (e.g. God having completed the work of creation rested on the 7th day, Genesis 2:2-3). Thus, Naaman’s bathing in the Jordan seven times indicates his restoration to the completeness of his creation, emphasized by the fact that we are told that having done so, Naaman’s skin was made like that of a little child (2 Kings 5:14). The method of healing employed by Elisha seems to differ from that used by Jesus in our gospel for today. In contrast to Elisha, Jesus does not tell the ten lepers to go and bathe, he simply tells them “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14). Why were they to show themselves to the priests? The community of Israel was theocratic, led by religious officials in both civil and religious matters, and it was only by the approval of the priests that a onetime leper could be declared clean (see Leviticus 14:1-9). But what does that tell us? After all, we do not live in a theocracy, and so what priests or pastors say about our status as clean or unclean has no impact upon us. What this indicates to us is that, contrary to the many NONES among us, Jesus had no intention making us spiritual as opposed to religious. Rather, it was vital that those who were to live by the Spirit (see John 4:24 & Galatians 5:25-26) would be brought together in organized community so that each member of the Body of Christ could live life to the fullest by playing the role she or he was created for (see 1 Corinthians 12). Thus, what we see here is that to be fully alive means to be a member of that community which has Jesus Christ as its head (Colossians 1:18), giving life to all of its members in the Spirit, the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church.
My friends, being made members of the Church at baptism, through grace we share in the life of the God Who made us and thus begin to live fully human lives. However, we must not become lazy, or rest on our laurels, for it is just as easy to cut ourselves off from the Body of Christ and thus lose this fullness of life as it is to become a part of it. For this reason Paul exhorts Timothy along with all of us to endure all that we may suffer for being a member of the Body of Christ, just as Paul was suffering (2 Timothy 2:10), reminding us of the conditions of our Baptism: “This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13). Notice please the conditions indicated here by Paul: If we persevere, if we deny, if we are unfaithful. And let us not be led astray by the last condition, If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. This does not mean that no matter what we do, our baptism saves us, far from it. These verses must be taken as a whole. What is it that Christ remains faithful to? Us? In so far as we are members of his body, yes, for he is faithful to Himself as the Word of the Father. However, as the unchanging Word of Truth, Jesus cannot go back on what He has told us from the Father, this would be a contradiction of His very Person. Thus, to remain in Him, we must live the lives of love that he commands us to live, for only love can secure us within the community of the Life of God Which is Love Itself.
My friends, this is why today an attitude of gratitude is being put before us as an example to be followed. As Naaman, having been made whole in the waters of the Jordan, asks for two mule-loads of earth in order to be able to offer sacrifices to the God Whom he recognized had healed him (as gods in those days were believed to be associated with the territory over which they reigned). And the sole leper, who realizing that he had been healed came back to give thanks to the One Who had made him whole, and who is praised by our Lord for his realization. These examples are lifted up before us today as worthy of being followed for it is precisely an attitude of gratitude that keeps us from believing that we can achieve life to its fullest on our own, and instead reminds us that only in God do we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), and that we can hope to one day obtain the fullness of “salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).
Your servant in Christ,