October 13, 2019
(28th Sunday Ordinary Time, C)
Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of Elisha, the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy.
Naaman said: “. . . please let me, your servant, have two mule loads of earth, for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to the LORD.” 2_Kgs_5:14-17
St. Paul said, “Beloved: Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” 2_Tm_2:8-13
Of ten lepers whom Jesus healed, one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Lk_17:11-19
People sometimes ask me, “Where are you from?” It’s an interesting question, because for some people, and I’m one of them, it’s difficult to give the exact WHERE – without the WHEN, since we’ve lived in many different places over the years.
And yet, the answer to that question also depends on where – it was asked. From anywhere BUT Columbia, my answer is usually, “Columbia, Missouri,” since we’ve lived here for the past 30-years. But if someone asked me that same question in the back of Church, it would be a little tougher to answer, because I can take them on a journey across half the country.
On the other hand, if you were to ask one of my 5th Graders where THEY came from, you would get the immediate response: “That I came from God and my parents;” which is really, the same answer, that any one of us can give.
And IF we’re ALL from God and our parents, then it doesn’t matter if we are physically from New Jersey or Tokyo, from Islamabad or El Salvador: we are all related! And we are all family!
But what bounces around in these little brains and hearts of ours, that’s another story.
You see the secret to a happy existence in this Life of ours, where-ever else we may be from, is always keeping that Relationship between God and ALL of us in the forefront of our thoughts. We are ALL from God, with a little help from our parents!
Now, if we look at just that little, telescopic, snapshot, in the middle of the Naaman Story, that we heard in our First Reading today, we will have missed the point that this man, Naaman, was NOT from around there!
As a matter of fact, not only was Naaman from across enemy lines, but he was considered a highly successful Commander of the Army – that devastated Israel.
And when this foreign, enemy Commander approached the King of Israel for a favor, the King was so distraught, that he literally tore his clothes off. It was a sign of total surrender and fear, even though the guy was hopelessly covered with leprous sores.
It just makes us ponder, brothers and sisters: How do WE respond to that unexpected stranger? How do we respond to the homeless guy or gal who parks their backpack on the front doorstep of our Church, for some overnight shelter, at what they think is a “safe place?” Do we tear our clothes in fear, like the King? Do we sneer in anger or disgust and chase them away, like an unwanted fly? Or do we welcome that foreign stranger, just as Jesus would have; or just as the Prophet Elisha DID with Naaman, the Syrian leper?
You see, Naaman’s whole reason for making this, pretty risky trip into HIS enemy territory, was all based on a recommendation that he heard from a little Israelite girl, whom HE had captured, separated from her family and enslaved, years earlier. You see, Naaman didn’t want to BE there, any more than they didn’t want him there. But, for the reward of a healing, Naaman felt that it was well worth the risk.
And when he finally got to his destination, to the place of his redemption, he was told, by a Messenger, and not even Elisha himself, to perform this ludicrous act of plunging himself into the dirty, muddy water of the Jordan River.
It was the absolute limit of his humiliation tolerance. Yet, there he was just minutes away from the most magnificent experience of his entire life, and he almost missed it!
You know, sometimes we just have to surrender to the ludicrous to experience the Extraordinary!
Well, we all heard the rest of the Naaman story. Not only was he cured, but he was totally converted to Faith in the God of Israel. Naaman was SO converted, that, thinking Elisha’s God resided only there, in the Land of Israel, he wanted to take some of Israel’s ‘God-infused-dirt’ back home to dwell with him in Syria.
You know, I’m one of those junk collectors. And I’ve got sand from Dubai, volcanic rock from Hawaii, seashells from Florida and petrified wood from my parents honeymoon (all legal). But none of those souvenirs holds a candle to the Holy Dirt that Naaman was after!
And how could Elisha take that gesture as anything other than extraordinary thanksgiving, even though he knew that God really resides in all of our hearts, no matter where – WE ARE FROM.
All Naaman needed now, was a little Catechesis. And he had the perfect little girl to teach him. A little girl captured by evil, but sent by God, just like St. Paul, in chains!
St. Paul tells his disciple Timothy and us today, that “the Word of God is NOT chained.” It’s not chained to a place or an economy. It’s not chained to a ritual, or a culture, or a language, or a race. God’s love and grace have absolutely NO bounds, save for what WE refuse to accept, just like Naaman almost did.
Which brings us to the ten Galilean and Samaritan lepers of our Gospel. Like Naaman, they were all hopelessly cursed with an incurable and totally debilitating skin disease. And like Naaman, the Samaritan leper was not only a foreigner, but an enemy to the Jews.
So when Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priest, as was the Jewish custom, the Samaritan was torn as to WHERE to go. He wasn’t a Jew, so he couldn’t present himself to their priests. And his own Samaritan priests would just shun him for even speaking with Jesus, who WAS a Jew.
And yet, his healing was SO very REAL. It was real enough to make him want to shout in glory to God . . . Somewhere, somewhere! Where ARE You From, Oh God of my salvation?
Well, just like the Messenger that Elisha sent to bring healing to Naaman; a messenger who embodied the very spirit of Elisha, who embodied the very Spirit of God, God, Himself sent HIS Messenger, in human flesh, who IS the very Spirit of God, this Jesus, to bring healing to us.
And just like Naaman, that “healed,” Samaritan leper realized exactly that! And he bowed down in worship and Thanksgiving . . .
– to the God who loves – even the foreigner;
– to the God who saves – even the lost;
– and to the God who lives, not somewhere beyond the clouds, but right there in our own hearts!
As we come to His altar today, in Thanksgiving, in Eucharistia, for every breath we take, we remember our world-wide family.
And we remember exactly WHERE we are
ALL – really – FROM.
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