Gratefulness is where the Scriptures direct us this weekend. The second Book of Kings records the prophet Elisha directing a
foreigner called Naaman to be cleansed of his leprosy in the river Jordan. Preceding today’s passage was the scoffing of Naaman as to why the Jordan should be selected as the healing place of God. Naaman knew of far better rivers back in his homeland, yet it was here that God chose. He obeyed and was indeed healed. Naaman was so overwhelmed by the miracle that he abandoned his former ways and became a worshiper of the one true God.
The reading illustrates not only the correct response to the mercies of God but it also foreshadows another truth, that salvation will come to the world in a manner that it least expects and that this salvation will be for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. The Jordan foreshadows the scandal that will be the Messiah, our God, coming as a common man who will be crucified and then raised from the dead. It is in this most unlikely of ways that the greatest healing from the leprosy of sin and death will emerge. This truth remains a stumbling block not only for the world but even for some within the household of faith. Is it really necessary to spiritually immerse myself into the reality of the crucifixion in order to find the healing I seek for sin? Is Jesus really where all persons find themselves and are made whole? To a world desperately seeking healing, Christianity can seem just too “common” to possibly be the key to a new life.
So what of those who are healed in the Gospel? The inflection we give to the voice of Jesus in today’s Gospel can influence how we interpret this selection. Jesus felt great pity at the sight of the lepers and with urgent compassion he encouraged them “to go show yourselves to the priest.” It is when the 10 leave and are cured but only one returns that Jesus says with perhaps a disappointed sadness, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Those who should have known better, the children of Israel, failed to give thanks and show love to the God who had given them so much.
Yet in all of this, God is not vindictive. The Gospel does not record that those who failed to give thanks to God had their cleansing taken from them. They continued on, healed and loved by God. God gives freely and his kindness is not revoked if we are ungrateful. As St. Paul notes, “If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”
Questions for Reflection
1. Can I take extended prayer time to be grateful to God?
2. Can I give like God without expecting thanks?
3. Can I love like God without expecting return?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.