Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): As Christ makes His way to the cross, He accedes to the pleas of 10 lepers for pity. The consummation of the Samaritan leper’s healing happens when he falls at the feet of Jesus in thanksgiving. Which makes Jesus wonder, “Where are the other nine?” St. Paul warns, “If we deny Him, He will deny us.” The formerly skeptical Naaman returns to Elisha filled with gratitude and praise for God once his leprosy is healed by plunging in the Jordan. He resolves to live the rest of his life worshiping no other god but the Lord. For us, fervent thanksgiving prevents us from ever denying God; it keeps us strong in the faith that saves us.
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: 2 Kings 5:14-17 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the second book of Kings.
Naaman went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of Elisha, the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him; and he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.”
But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will receive none.” And Naaman urged him to take it, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If not, I pray you, let there be given to your servant two mules’ burden of earth; for henceforth your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the LORD.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: This reading gives us the climax of the story. The setup is worth recalling. The scene is the Northern Kingdom of Israel, where the last monarch of idolatrous King Ahab’s family, Joram, now sits on the throne. Neighboring Syria often went to war with Israel; it was in one such battle, in fact, that Ahab had been killed. It was during an informal border clash that a young Israelite girl was captured and taken to the royal court at Damascus to become servant to the wife of Naaman, one of the Syrian king’s best generals. Unfortunately, Naaman also had some form of leprosy, though it must not have been infectious if he was permitted to remain at court. (At least in modern times, 85 percent or more of leprosy cases are not of the infectious kind that prompted the strict quarantines and declarations of ritual uncleanness found in the Law of Moses.)
The servant girl suggests that Naaman go to Israel and seek out Elisha, the great successor of Elijah who performed many miracles foretelling those of Jesus. When Naaman arrives at Elisha’s home, the prophet’s servant Gehazi meets him with word to go wash seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman is indignant – why, he says, did I come all this way when I could have washed in the rivers of my native land? But his aides persuade him to try Elisha’s way – which brings us to the start of this weekend’s first reading. Naaman is shocked to find his skin restored as though he were young again!
On this day, the religion that would become Judaism won a Gentile convert. This is why, after Elisha rejects Naaman’s gifts, the grateful Syrian asks the prophet for permission to take home some Israelite soil on which he could build an altar and worship Yahweh. Adherents of ancient gods did tend to believe that the god would listen to them only when they worshiped and sacrificed to him or her on the god’s home turf. But Naaman reveals that his new faith is deeper: “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”
His confession presages a world-changing event many centuries later, when Damascus was home to one-time Jews who followed the Son of God. For it was in Naaman’s city that a zealous Pharisee of the tribe of Benjamin, one Saul of Tarsus, would literally be blinded by the light of the risen Jesus Christ, who would call him to become the “apostle to the Gentiles.” Naaman, then, reminds us that God’s promise of a Savior never was limited to the Jewish people. It was, is and always will be for all the world.
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-13
A reading from the second letter of St. Paul to Timothy.
Beloved: Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory. The saying is sure:
If we have died with him,
we shall also live with him;
if we endure,
we shall also reign with him;
if we deny him,
he also will deny us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful –
for he cannot deny himself.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: That same Saul of Tarsus is in chains in Rome, having once fought off the efforts of mad Emperor Nero to execute him but knowing that he soon will receive the martyr’s crown. As he composes his final instructions and spiritual testament to send to his faithful Timothy, now bishop at Ephesus, Paul quotes one of the simplest and most profound confessions that circulated among the early Christian communities in his time.
Read the words, and savor them. They tell of a Savior who only turns aside from His people if they use their free will to turn away from Him. And yet, even then, our Lord never stops loving us, caring for us or calling us back home. It may seem He has deserted us who follow Him when life’s difficulties and persecutions pile up upon our backs. They are not His doing; they are the fruits of our own sins and all the sins of humanity that intersect with our lives. But He brings good out of even the worst evils; this is how a lifetime of faithful endurance can bring such an awesome reward! We may give up on God, but He will not give up on us as long as we live. He became one of us, lived, died and rose again and made all who believe in Him part of His Mystical Body. Truly He cannot deny them, “for He cannot deny Himself.” Rest assured of His love. Rest in Him. And let Him guide you on the journey to life with Him forever.
Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: As usual, the first reading is linked to the Gospel reading. It’s linked in this case by location (the former Northern Kingdom) and by the disease at issue (leprosy). This time, however, we see the consequences of the Mosaic Law’s handling of leprosy in the cry of the 10 lepers who have to cry out to Jesus from a distance. The Lord doesn’t ask them to wash in the Jordan, but He commands them to follow the Law’s prescription for certifying that they have been cleansed and may resume life in the Israelite community. Note that the lepers were not cleansed at the moment Jesus gave the command – but by obeying their Messiah, the healing came to be!
And now we recall the example of Naaman. The Samaritans may have occupied part of the Promised Land, and they indeed were related by blood through the 10 northern tribes who broke away from the rule of David’s dynasty centuries earlier. But the Samaritans were the product of the pacification policies of the old Assyrian Empire, conquerors of the Northern Kingdom, who exiled the cream of the 10 tribes to Mesopotamia and sent other conquered peoples to replace the exiles and intermarry with those Israelites left behind. It was in this way, in addition to various postexilic conflicts, that the Samaritans came to be seen as foreigners in their own land. But it was also in this way that the grateful former Samaritan leper also foretells the coming cleansing of all the world from sin by the supreme Prophet, Priest and King who grew up not far away in “Galilee of the Gentiles.”
Let us place our faith in Him who heals us from the ultimate leprosy of sin, the disease that puts us in quarantine from our Creator with whom we ought to live forever. And then, like Naaman, our faith will make us well.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be