Expressing our Gratitude for God’s Continued Mercy, 28th Sunday (C), October 9, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
October 9, 2016
2 Kings 5:14-17, Ps 98, 2 Tim2:8-13, Lk 17:11-19

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

Preparation through Gratitude for the Lord’s Greater Gift

Today’s first reading and Gospel are not simply about the Lord’s power to heal people of the dreadful disease of leprosy, but the larger point of how we’re supposed to respond when the Lord does give us an incredible gift like that. Naaman was cured of leprosy, but the Lord had a greater gift in mind that he received only after he came back to thank the prophet through whom God had given the cure: he came to realize there is no God in all the earth except the Lord and that he would no longer offer sacrifices or worship to false gods, but only to the true Lord.

A similar two-part miracle happened in the Gospel in the scene of the healing of the ten lepers. All ten were cured of a disease that had been eating away their flesh and bones, that had made them stink, that had made them the worst of outcasts and forced them to stay at least 50 feet away from any non-leper. It had compelled them at all times to yell out “unclean!, unclean!,” anytime someone was approaching. It cut them off from their family members. It also cut them off from the communal worship of God as they could never return to the Synagogue on Saturday or to the Temple on the major holy days. But at their cry for mercy, Jesus healed them all and sent them to the priests, which was the means set up in the Mosaic Law for their cure to be verified by affirming that the disease had stopped growing and they were no longer contagious. But the text of St. Luke implies that as they were heading to the priest, they were completely cured, they no longer had their leprous sores, and their bodies had been made whole again. After recognizing that the miracle for which they had prayed and long for had been granted, we would have expected that all of them would have been rejoicing almost as if they had been raised from the dead. But only one of the ten returned to thank the Lord Jesus who had given them this gift. Jesus poignantly asks, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?”

Jesus wished them all to return not because he had worked the miracle with impure motives to get them to thank him, but so that he might give them an even greater gift than the stupendous physical cure. He wanted to give them all what he gave the Samaritan who returned, the grace of salvation by faith. After the healed man fell down at his feet to thank him with all his heart, Jesus told him, “Stand up and go. Your faith has saved you!” Jesus came into the world not fundamentally to heal our bodies but to heal our souls. He came not to remedy our ills but to redeem our lives. In order to receive these greater gifts, however, we need gratefully to be in relationship with God. While all ten men were cured of the physical leprosy, nine retained leprosy of the soul, an ingratitude that took for granted the greatest gift they had received in life until then. Only the grateful leper would receive the gift of salvation because only he had a heart that was opened to receive it. The other nine didn’t and Jesus made note of it, saying, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?.” The other nine lepers were presumably Jews and Jesus was implying that it was shocking that only the Samaritan returned because the Jews had been trained by God for centuries in the prayers of the Psalms and in the incredible events of salvation history to give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever. If anyone should have learned how to say thanks to God, it should have been the Jews. But many of them took God’s generosity, God’s goodness, for granted. The other nine likely looked at their disease with anger toward God, as if he had somehow sadistically chosen for unjust punishment such that when they were cured they looked at it the way people might view getting released from an unkind kidnapper: they would be grateful for the liberation but they likely wouldn’t send a thank-you note to the one who had held them in captivity. But the Samarian, even though his body had been disintegrating, his soul hadn’t been destroyed by leprosy of bitterness, complaining, cursing, or ingratitude. His fundamental relationship with God was still there. He likely thanked God for all the little things he received from his hands, like the generosity of people who would provide food, or give a kind word of compassion. And when he received the big grace of his cure, he did what he probably always did, and immediately sought to thank the Giver. And he likely grew to thank God even for his years of leprosy, because if he hadn’t been a leper, he may never have encountered Jesus the way he did and never would have received the gift of salvation by faith.

Are we like the one or the nine? 

It’s important for us as Christians to focus on gratitude. We have been blessed with gifts of faith through Jesus far greater than the Jews ever received, but do we readily thank God for his gifts and, through that gratitude, often ourselves even more profoundly to a life-changing relationship with the Divine Giver? Or do we behave like the nine other lepers? Many of us Catholics would be eligible for honorary doctoral degrees in complaining, rather than known by all our friends and family for our gratitude. Some of us would complain about the menu at the Last Supper. For us, the glass is never full, the beach is too sunny, the water is too wet. When we’re asking about how we’re doing, we complain about a slight tooth ache rather than express our gratitude that our eyes, ears, mouth, nose and every joint of our body is without pain. We grumble about what we don’t have, rather than rejoice with appreciation at what we do. That’s why today’s readings are so important.

At every Mass, one of the most important dialogues in human life occurs at Mass. The priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” Everyone responds, “It is right and just.” And then the priest replies with a saying of great theological depth: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and ever-living God.” It’s right, it’s just, it’s fitting, it’s appropriate for us to give God thanks, “always and everywhere.” It’s right, just, fitting and appropriate for us to do so on sunny days and rainy days, on days we feel like a million bucks and days we’re in the hospital, on days when we’re attending weddings and days we’re attending funerals of loved ones, on days when we get promotions and bonuses at work and days we get pink slips, on days when we win and on days that we lose. It’s right and just to thank God always and everywhere. It’s our duty to thank God because he has directly willed or permitted everything that has happened to us, both what the world considers good and what the world considers bad, because even out of the bad — like leprosy in Naaman or the Samaritan — he seeks to draw spiritual good, for “everything works out for the good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).

Gratitude for, and faith in, God’s mercy

During this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, it is particularly important for us to recognize and thank the Lord for the gift of his mercy, for the way he seeks to heal us of a leprosy of the soul far uglier and more injurious than any leprosy of the flesh. When we cry out to him, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!,” he turns to us and says, “Go show yourselves to the priests!,” to the priests he himself sent out on Easter Sunday evening with the power to forgive and retain sins in his name, to the priests who by transmitting Jesus’ reconciliation allow us to participate in his resurrection. Sometimes Catholics may not like the means by which Jesus seeks to heal us. They may prefer to try to confess their sins to God alone without any minister, to keep their shame just between them and God with no intermediary, including an intermediary who because of the Sacramental Seal would allow himself to be tortured and martyred rather than reveal the littlest detail of what he heard. But just as Jesus had the ten lepers take a journey of faith and go show themselves to the priests before they experienced healing, so he does with us. We need to trust Jesus enough to trust in the means he established for our healing.

In today’s first reading, we have only the end of the scene of Naaman’s healing, but the beginning is so important for us to learn, because it can be applied easily to our approach to Confession and so many other aspects of our faith. When this power Army commander had gone with his dreadful disease to the prophet Elisha in the hope he might be healed, Elisha tested his faith. He didn’t even come to greet him. He simply sent a note saying, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.” Naaman immediately responded with anger, saying, “I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the Lord his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” And in his indignation he began to leave. His servants, however, came up to reason with him. “If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?,” they asked. “All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.” And so Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of Elisha and, as we see in today’s excerpt, his flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was totally cleansed. This shows us that God seeks to heal us in ways that help us to grow in faith as he cures us. And the means by which he established to forgive us our sins is one such means. It’s simple enough. We don’t have to hike up Mt. Everest barefoot, we just have to do what the Lord himself commanded, and when we do, that’s when he heals. And the ease and the availability of that gift should fill us with enormous joy, the joy that Jesus describes heaven has whenever one repentant sinner is healed. This extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is a time for us to thank Jesus for the gift of his spiritual healing in Baptism and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s a time to come to him with humility and enter into a deeper relationship of trust with Him as he seeks to transform us even more deeply by that mercy. And it’s a time for us to allow the Church’s hymn of thanksgiving for this great gift to draw others by our joy to the One who tells us “Go show yourselves to the priests” so that through them he can continue to heal us all.

Every Mass we’re called to grow in this spirit of thanksgiving, because the Eucharist is Jesus’ own prayer of Thanksgiving to the Father. The Greek word from which we derive the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” It’s always stopped me in my tracks that right before Jesus said the words of consecration on the night he would be betrayed, on the vigil of his crucifixion, he took bread and, as we’ll hear anew today, “gave thanks.” He gave thanks, because it is right always and everywhere, our duty and our salvation, to do so. He gave thanks because he was constantly thanking the Father. He gave thanks because he knew that the Father would bring the greatest good out of the greatest evil of all time, which would happen to him after the Mass was done. He gave thanks because it would be through his passion, death and resurrection, that Jesus would institute the means by which we would be able to enter into his own relationship with the Father. The Mass is the school in which we participate in Jesus’ own thanksgiving, the thanksgiving the Church makes continuously from the rising of the sun to its setting. The Lord has done far more for us than he ever did for the ten lepers. Here at Mass he gives us in a concrete way even more than what he gave to the one grateful leper when he said, “Your faith has saved you!” This is where he gives himself to us as salvation-in-the-flesh. No matter what hardships we’re enduring, what problems we’re facing, God comes into our world, to accompany us, to strengthen us, to heal us, to help us. He comes down here each day to save us. And so we say, “Thanks be to God!” Deo gratias! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! It is truly right, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give God this thanks and praise! Amen!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 2 KGS 5:14-17

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 returned with his whole retinue to the man of God.
On his arrival he stood before Elisha and said,
“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth,
except in Israel.
Please accept a gift from your servant.”

Elisha replied, “As the LORD lives whom I serve, I will not take it;”
and despite Naaman’s urging, he still refused.
Naaman said: “If you will not accept,
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.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2-3, 3-4

R. (cf. 2b) The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
his right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands:
break into song; sing praise.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.

Reading 2 2 TM 2:8-13

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.
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.
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.

Alleluia 1 THESS 5:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
In all circumstances, give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 17:11-19

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And 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.
Jesus said in reply,
“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.”

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