Lepers’ Lessons — 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

Naaman, an army commander from Syria, suffered from some kind of skin disease. He came to Israel seeking a miraculous cure. And, at the direction of the prophet Elisha, Naaman washed seven times in the Jordan River. Perhaps Naaman plunged those seven times all at once, or maybe he bathed across a longer span of time, bathing at morning, midday, and evening, such that he was cured on the third day. But regardless, after Naaman’s washing in the Jordan River, “his flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy.” After his baptism, it was like Naaman had been born again. And Naaman was, understandably, extremely grateful.

Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel,” he said, “Please accept a gift from your servant.” But Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives whom I serve, I will not take it,” and despite Naaman’s urging, he still refused. Why did the prophet refuse him? Perhaps Elisha sensed that to receive any gifts from him would make Naaman feel like his debt of gratitude to God was paid. But God desired Naaman to be in ongoing relationship with him. Unable to give any gift in Israel, Naaman took two mule-loads of earth back home with him to Syria so that he might always worship and offer sacrifice to the God of Israel on holy ground. Naaman was returning to a pagan land, but he intentionally created space for the true God in his life.

Today’s Gospel features another man from a foreign land with a skin disease who comes to seek healing from the Lord. As Jesus was entering a village, a Samaritan and nine other skin-diseased people stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Jesus tells them to present themselves to the priests. he Old Covenant directed the Jewish priests to administer examinations and rituals regarding people with various skin diseases which our translations somewhat inaccurately call “leprosy.” What we think of as leprosy, Hansen’s Disease (the victims of which St. Damien of Moloka’i and St. Marianne Cope cared for in Hawaii in the late 1800’s) reportedly did not exist in the ancient world. In any case, as Jesus’ ten petitioners were going, their skin was cleansed. And one of them, a Samaritan, realizing he had been healed, returned glorifying God in a loud voice, fell at the feet of Jesus, and thanked him. Jesus says in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Apparently, there were some non-foreigners, some Jewish persons, among the other nine. Jesus says to the healed Samaritan: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.

These stories from God’s Word present multiple lessons for us today. Listen and consider, with the help of the Holy Spirit how these lessons apply to your life.

  • Like in the case of Naaman with the prophet Elisha, God can’t be bought off with just a few of our gifts. And God does not desire to be honored just one day, but every day of our lives. God wants you, and he wants all of you. That might sound like an unwelcome burden, but it is in the friendship and service of Jesus that we live a worthwhile life. Sure, I can cling to sin, like tolerating a leprosy corrupting my flesh, but how much better off will my life be if I acknowledge God as my master and ask him to heal me?
  • As I noted before, there were apparently Jewish persons among the other nine lepers who didn’t come back to Jesus. Sometimes cradle Catholics can take the gracious gifts we receive for granted. The fervent enthusiasm often seen in converts into the Church reminds us how precious our Catholic Faith is.
  • Among the ten healed lepers, only one showed gratitude. How much do we complain compared to compliment? How often are we criticizing compared to celebrating? The Samaritan made a choice to thank and give praise, and so should we. “Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands,” says our psalm, “break into song; sing praise.” And today’s Gospel antiphon quotes the New Testament, “In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
  • When the lepers saw Jesus they cried out saying: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And after his healing, the Samaritan returned glorifying God in a loud voice, fell at the feet of Jesus in front of everybody, and thanked him. The Samaritan raised his voice for both occasions and purposes. How much do we pray to God to ask for things, and how much do we pray to God to thank and praise him? God commands us to offer prayers of petition: “Ask and you will receive,” but we also need raise prayers of praise and thanksgiving to him. And we shouldn’t care too much what others think about us doing so.
  • As I said before, Naaman the Syrian knew the pagan land he was returning to, and he intentionally created a holy space in his home within that pagan culture. As today’s modern culture, its entertainments, its schools, its modes of thought, and laws become less and less Christian, we too must be intentional about preserving pure and holy spaces for ourselves and our households. Always going with the flow of this world will lead you down the drain. Instead, build your house on the rock of our Faith.

This saying is trustworthy: If we die with Jesus, we shall also live with him; if we persevere with Christ, we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, and merciful, and just, for he cannot and will not deny himself. Learn from the examples of Naaman the Syrian and the Samaritan Leper. Approach the loving and powerful Lord. Ask him to cleanse you of your impurities and heal you. And live a better life which will be happily remembered and celebrated forever.

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