October 13, 2019 • 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: 2 Kings 5:14–17
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98:1–2, 2–3, 3–4 (cf. 2b)
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8–13
Gospel Acclamation: 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Gospel: Luke 17:11–19
There is an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt in regard to people. Presumably that is because we are imperfect and we kind of get on each other’s nerves over time. Often, when we get married, we’ll pick someone for our spouse who is strong in areas where we are weak and we admire them for that. After we get married those same strengths can become irritating and we find ourselves wishing they were more like us. We especially develop these attitudes if we are not engaging in regular examinations of our consciences and are not seeking to cultivate the virtue of humility through prayer and dependence on God.
When it comes to God, if we have been Christians for a long time, we know that He is perfect and greater than we are, so we tend to be more circumspect in outward behavior towards Him — at least on the surface — even though we have become complacent and lackadaisical in our relationship with Him. This Sunday’s readings reveal to us a number of warning signs when those conditions are present in us, as well as some corrective actions to take to remedy the situation.
I will be covering all the readings together this week.
The Old and New Testaments both include narratives of foreigners who are outside the Jewish religion, strangers who have more faith and respect for the God of Israel than the majority of God’s own people. There are faithful Israelites, to be sure, but they are in the minority. As I have looked at Christianity throughout the ages, I have seen the same pattern. The faithful are usually in the minority. People are always free, if they choose, to move between the faithful and unfaithful categories, and indeed, I suspect that most of us have spent time in both camps. None of us is totally faithful, even in the best of times, which is why we need God’s mercy and grace, which He provides so abundantly through the Sacraments.
This Sunday’s First and Gospel readings provide the examples of the lepers Naaman the Syrian (from the kingdom of Aram) and the Samaritan leper, who are healed through Elisha and Jesus respectively.
In Naaman‘s case, he is a rich and powerful military commander of the army of Aram, or Syria, who comes seeking healing from Elisha and is ready to go to any lengths and pay any price to obtain it. Instead, he finds healing through humbling means and God’s free grace. He not only is healed, but is converted into a true believer in the God of Israel, even though the bulk of Israel, from their king on down, have such low expectations of God that they don’t even bother turning to Him.
In the case of the unknown Samaritan leper, he and his group of nine fellow lepers have no other recourse than to plead to Jesus for healing. Jesus, in response, tells them to go show themselves to a priest so they can be inspected and declared free of the disease, as was the law when one was healed of leprosy. As they go to do so, they are healed, but only the Samaritan turns back, glorifying God, to thank Jesus. Jesus responds by saying,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”
So the other nine appear to be Jews.
Now, what do we learn from these two stories about the warning signs of complacency in our relationship with God?
You have to read the whole story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 to see it, but when the king of Israel gets a letter from the king of Aram that Naaman is coming to Israel seeking healing, the king of Israel despairs, fearing conquest is the real reason, rather than turning to God in prayer and to God’s prophet with his fears. So if our lives show a lack of expectation and faith in prayer to God, then we are in trouble in our relationship with Him, and we need to confess it to Him and address it.
The story of the lepers shows us that nine of the lepers just want Jesus to make life work out according to their personal desires. So they weren’t looking for His answers to their prayers and giving thanks for them. If we just want God to fix things in our lives according to our will, we have a problem in our relationship with Him that needs correcting. We need to turn back to Him in truth.
The psalm and the second reading show us the way back: True thanksgiving for God’s mercies, and fidelity to Him in our lives.