TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
Both the Old Testament and the Gospel readings today tell stories of miraculous healing. In our first reading from 2 Kings, Naaman, a Syrian, was healed of his leprosy by following the prophet Elisha's instructions to plunge himself seven times in the Jordan river. At that time, among the civilizations in the Middle East, each tribe and nation of people had their own god or gods whom they worshiped. Gods were thought to be tied to particular regions, so many people perceived the God of Israel to be just one national god among many. But upon being healed, Naaman proclaimed, "Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel." Naaman even asked for a cartload of Israeli soil to take with him so that he could continue to give worship to Israel's God when he returned home.
In our Gospel reading today from Luke, another foreigner glorifies God after experiencing a miraculous healing. Jesus heals ten lepers on His way to Jerusalem. One of them, a Samaritan (remember, those guys despised by the Jews?) came back to Jesus. The gospel says he "glorified God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him." Jesus remarks how He healed ten people, but only "this foreigner" returned to give thanks to God.
This is but one of many healing miracles Jesus performs throughout the gospels, and so He is rightly called the Great Physician. But healing the sick is really incidental to His ministry. He did not come to heal mankind of our physical ailments. He came for a higher purpose, to reconcile sinners to the Father. Christ miraculously heals the body of some to point to the greater healing of the soul that He offers to all. Our gospel today reveals the purpose of His healing miracles; to give glory to God, just as Naaman did when he was healed by Elisha.
Naaman proclaimed, "There is no God in all the earth except [the God of] Israel." This is the fundamental truth of our faith. There is one God and one God only. There is only one God who made all of creation, including you and I. The one and the same God will be our judge at the end of our lives. And that one and the same God offers His unceasing love and mercy to us. Furthermore that one and the same God became Incarnate in space and time and is none other than Jesus the Christ, as evidenced by the many miracles He performed, including the healing proclaimed in the gospel today, and most especially in His resurrection from the dead.
If you are a Christian, this is what you believe. It is likely something you have been taught as a child, something that has always been part of the background of your life. But so what? Do you live your life any differently knowing that Jesus Christ is the one and only God? Does it make any difference for you?
When Naaman discovered that the God of Israel was the one true God, he wanted to carry loads of dirt from Israel, carted around by donkeys wherever he went, so that he could always honor God. What are you willing to do?
Listen to the words that St. Paul - who never met Jesus in the flesh - writes to his beloved Timothy from behind the walls of a prison cell. "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my gospel [good news] 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... If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him."
In other words, there is nothing Paul would not endure, nothing he would not do, for the singular fact that Jesus Christ is Lord. This truth is life altering. It changes everything, or it should for those who comprehend it even a little bit. If you understand that Jesus Christ is God and know what He did for us, then nothing in your life can ever be the same.
Today is the day to take an honest look at your life. How is your life different because of Jesus? And do not answer this question with externals. It would be a selfish mistake to focus on things like, "Jesus did not help me pass my exam," or "Jesus did not help my dad find a job," or "Jesus did not heal my aunt's cancer," or "Jesus didn't keep that boy from breaking my heart." Jesus is not a magic genie who grants us wishes if we rub his lamp. Jesus is God - the only God there is -- the God who died and rose for us and who beckons us to follow Him to eternal life. If you want to know what Jesus has done for you, you only need look at a crucifix. Things that seem important to us now pale in comparison to our eternal happiness. Christ has bigger plans for us.
So I ask again, how is your life different because of Jesus? And this time look inward. Reflect on what you have done for Him. How have you changed your life because of Jesus? Are you living any differently than the rest of the world? Do you think about Christ when making important decisions in your life? Everyday decisions?
If Naaman was willing to haul cartloads of earth from Israel, if Paul was willing to suffer imprisonment, what are you willing to do? How about giving up one hour once a week to go to Mass? That's a start.
How about saying, "Thank you," to God in a quick prayer every morning? How about saying, "I'm sorry," to Him at the end of the day when you think back on your failings and then asking Him to help you be a better person? How about spending some serious time thinking about what it means to be a better person?
How about learning a little bit about the Church He founded to continue His ministry for us today? How about spending a little time each week learning about what His Church teaches, and why? How about letting the Church challenge you, and not shrinking from that challenge?
How about letting go of some things that are standing between you and God? How about letting God change you into the person He wants you to be, the perfect version of you? How about trusting Him to know you better than you know yourself?
How about falling in love with Jesus? How about settling for nothing less?
As the psalmist says today, "The Lord has revealed to the nations His saving power." God has revealed Himself to us. He has made His glory known. How will you respond?
This saying is trustworthy:If we have died with Himwe shall also live with Him;if we perseverewe shall also reign with Him.But if we deny HimHe will deny us.If we are unfaithfulHe remains faithful,for He cannot deny Himself.