Sunday Homily for October 9th, 2016
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Often when we are presented with God’s Word, we latch on to the “obvious” message and do not take the time to dig deeper and discover more of the richness of the Word. Such is the case with today’s readings. It is Thanksgiving weekend, and in both the first reading and the Gospel, we have the stories of lepers who are healed and want to give thanks. The obvious message to us, therefore, is that we must be thankful for the blessings we have been given. That message is a true one, and important. It is good and right to be thankful and to express our gratitude; to God and to one another.
To discover a deeper message in the readings today, we need to have a little bit of background knowledge. Naaman, the Syrian, was a Gentile, not a Jew. He was a member of a foreign nation and people, and the commander of the army of a foreign power that was often a threat to the kingdom of Israel. The Samaritan leper in the Gospel was similar. While the Samaritans thought of themselves as God’s People, the Jews saw them as outsiders, not pure members of God’s chosen people, but as heretics. This was for a number of reasons: they were a mixed race, the result of intermarriage between the local people of the Northern Kingdom and the soldiers of the conquering army. They had their own temple on Mount Gerazim and did not worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. So in both cases, the contemporaries of Jesus saw these men as outsiders, foreigners, and not worthy of God’s love or compassion. They were excluded, pushed to the margins.
It is seemingly part of human nature to have an us-and-them attitude. That plays out in our world in so many different ways. We see that in immigration policy in various nations. Think about some of the statements from the presidential race in the United States regarding immigrants, immigrant policy, and the need to guard the nation from being swamped by immigrants who do not share the values of the majority of the nation. We do the same thing when we set up organizations, clubs, fraternities or any kind of group in our society. There are rules and conditions for belonging, and if one cannot fit into those rules and conditions, then one is excluded. Certainly the Jews of Elisha’s time, and especially the Pharisees and lawyers of Jesus’ time had very clear rules about who belonged and who didn’t, who deserved God’s grace and who didn’t. In both readings, the people who asked for healing were disqualified because the not only were not Jews (only the Samaritan in the Gospel) but they were also lepers and so were very much pushed out to the margins of the community.
The readings today speak to us about inclusion and the scope of God’s love and the call to live in relationship with God. Naaman’s healing leads him, a Syrian, an outsider, to faith in God. He says he will no longer worship any God but the Lord. He has been welcomed into the experience of God’s love and begins a journey of faith. Part of Israel’s role as God’s Chosen People was to be a witness to God’s love to the nations around them. They gradually forgot that call and saw the gift of God’s love as exclusively their own, not to be shared with others. How often do we do the same thing. Jesus responds to the Samaritan who returns to give that to God by commending the Samaritan’s faith, which has made him well. The other nine, whom we assume were Jews, seemingly saw their healing a their due because they were part of God’s people They were probably delighted to be cured, but did not feel any great need to express gratitude or reflect on what that healing meant for their faith or their relationship with God.
As we gather as a faith community, we are challenged to look at our attitudes and actions. How do we see ourselves as church? Do we see our participation in the life of the church as our due, and have clear conditions for membership, or do we recognize, as Jesus reminds us, that God’s love is for all? Are we willing to open our arms and embrace and welcome all people into our midst or do we want an exclusive little “faith club”? Do we recognize that all people are made in God’s image and likeness, created by God, given life by God and called to be in relationship with God? Are we willing to reach out to those who are different from us and love them in the same way that we love other members of our faith community? Can we look beyond the boundaries and limits of race, colour, creed, orientation, ideology or any other difference and recognize that we are all God’s children and that God calls us to love one another equally?
God’s love is for all – just ask Jesus in the Gospel today!