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Sunday Readings for Oct. 10, 2010 (28C)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
The flesh of a little child. I performed a baptism last Sunday, and it was so easy to see the difference between my own old flesh, applying water and oil, and the soft clean skin of the fine baby girl receiving the sacrament.
Let me go one further. What would your reaction be if you went from leprosy to being fresh as a baby? You or I would probably open a website to sell soft-skin!
Sunday Scripture narrates two leprosy cures and two reactions. In the Gospel, Jesus cures ten lepers. He sends them off, saying, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” On the way they realize they have been cleansed!
But only one cured leper, and it is a Samaritan, has eyes to see what this healing meant. He alone comes back to Jesus, extolling God in a loud voice. He drops to the ground in front of Jesus, giving thanks. What about the other nine? They must have simply gone on their way, glad they had won the sweepstakes and not thinking about the giver. They had received the bodily cure, but had not accepted the soul-cure Jesus offered.
It is different in the First Reading. There a leper, Naaman, is healed by Elisha the prophet. Naaman is told to plunge into the Jordan river seven times. He carries out this strange routine just as instructed. The result?“His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy.”
Naaman rushes back to Elisha and gives copious thanks. In a conversion speech, he declares that there is no other god on earth but Israel’s God! His whole life has been restored and his gratitude overflows. He offers a gift to Elisha in thanksgiving.
This is a very healthy, normal reaction. When a person is loved this much, their heart goes out to the giver and, without thinking, their soul wants to give gifts in return.
Strangely, Elisha the prophet refuses this gift. We are not given an explicit reason, but probably he did not want rewards for doing God’s work. In response, Naaman makes a dramatic pronouncement.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.
Mules and all, he will use Israeli earth to show his gratitude. He will use it to sacrifice to the God of Israel.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola are based on this kind of response, especially the last exercise, “Contemplation to Obtain God’s love.” When people on retreat realize, over time, how deeply they have been loved, their great desire is to give to the lover, to give in return.
Notice that this implies an adult relationship, not a child’s. An infant is filled with need after need after need and tells you all about them. The nine ungrateful lepers were like that. But as you grow to an adult you want to give back as well as receive. Yes, even to give to God.
How would you react? God has been seeking a mutual love relationship with you from the beginning of time. Do you ever sense this? Do you feel gratitude? Do you ever take time out to feel it?
Could you take some time this week?