Sunday, 13 October 2019 : Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday as we reflect back on what we have just heard being proclaimed in the Scriptures, we can see that there is a unifying theme for this Sunday’s set of readings and it is the importance of being grateful and to give thanks to God for all the wonderful blessings that He has given us all. Many times we have failed to appreciate and to thank the One Who has made everything possible for us according to His will.

We may think that giving thanks or showing appreciation to someone is something that is easily done and without the need of much effort. But through what the Scriptures are reminding us today, we are called to look deep into our own lives and realise just how difficult it is really, at times, to acknowledge, appreciate and to thank someone for the good deeds that has been done or given to us.

Let us first look at our first reading today taken from the Book of Kings, in which we heard the story of the healing of Naaman the Syrian by the prophet Elisha. Naaman was the greatest general of the King of Aram, a sworn enemy of the people of the northern kingdom of Israel because Aram had waged numerous wars for decades and centuries in contest of the lands of the northern kingdom. But this Naaman then suffered from leprosy.

We may not think that leprosy is something that is serious, but at that time, leprosy was not just a disease that can harm the body physically, but also afflict the person in mental, spiritual and in many other ways. For once, leprosy is a very highly visible affliction as it causes a visible discolouration of the skin and it affects particularly the limbs and the extremities, making it even more easily apparent.

And as leprosy can be transmitted from one person to another, although not highly contagious unlike some other diseases, the people of Naaman and Elisha’s time despised and feared leprosy a lot as a disease and even more so as a curse. For a person suffering from leprosy was often considered to be cursed by God for being sinful and for other wickedness that he or she had committed in life.

To see just how severe the affliction of leprosy was to the community, we just have to look at the numerous laws, rules and regulations listed down particularly in the Book of Leviticus where plenty of rules applied to those suffering from leprosy, those who came into contact with the lepers and even the matter of how to destroy objects and things that have come into contact with a leper. Essentially, we can see just how serious leprosy was to the community and this served its purpose right there and then when the Israelite community travelled and lived in very close quarters as they journeyed through the desert during the Exodus.

The lepers were forced to live outside the community as outcasts, and they were not allowed to return to the community until they were thoroughly clean and free from all signs of still having leprosy in their body. That was how it was even up to the time of the Lord Jesus, when He encountered the ten lepers in the wilderness as recounted in our Gospel passage today. Those ten lepers were outcasts and could not return to the community until their leprosy were healed and they proved this to the priests.

Therefore, it was in this context that Naaman the Syrian came all the way to Israel to seek healing as the name of the prophet Elisha as even though the rules regarding leprosy might have been different in his homeland, nonetheless it must have been a humiliating and difficult experience to suffer from such a disease. Thus Naaman came to Israel seeking Elisha hoping that he could be cured from his afflictions. But Naaman initially was not happy that Elisha asked him to go and bathe seven times in the River Jordan, for he thought that the prophet would have done something more amazing than such a mundane activity, and that he could have done the same in one of the rivers of his own home country.

But in the end, Naaman relented when his servant pointed out to him that he should probably better listen to the words of the prophet and do as he was asked to do in order to be healed. True enough, Naaman was healed completely right after he did all that the prophet Elisha had asked him to do. And as we heard in our Gospel passage today, Naaman wanted to thank Elisha for what he had done and insisted to give many gifts to the prophet, but Elisha rejected this offer.

In this, we can see how pride and ego often stand in the way for us to be able to appreciate what God has done for us, especially in reaching out to us and in trying to heal us from our afflictions and relieve us from our many troubles. Naaman was proud and arrogant, thinking badly at first how he could have been healed in a much better and more dramatic manner, only to realise that this attitude made him stubborn and therefore fail to recognise God’s generous offer of love and mercy.

Then, in our Gospel passage today, we heard of the ten lepers who were healed by the Lord even though initially they were unaware that they were already healed by the time the Lord was with them. But among the ten, only one of them returned to the Lord and thanked Him, while the other nine lepers, probably overjoyed and too distracted by their sudden reversal of fortune, forgot completely about the Lord and did not return to thank Him.

This here is a reminder for us that, not only that we could be stubborn and refuse to accept or acknowledge something good given to us by another, but we also often forget to give appreciation, acknowledgement or thanksgiving when they are due because we are too distracted and too preoccupied with whatever it is that we are doing that we end up treating God in such an ungrateful manner. And yet, if you noticed, the Lord did not retract His healing grace from the other nine even though they did not thank Him.

Now, there are two very important things here we have to take note of, brothers and sisters in Christ. First and most important of these is that, all of us, in case we do not realise it, are also suffering from ‘leprosy’ too. And why is this so? That is because all of us, no matter how healthy we are in our physical bodies, all of us are sick inside because of sin. All of us are sinners without any exception, each and every one of us have sinned, and sin is the ‘leprosy of the soul’.

And even far more dangerous than the physical and bodily leprosy mentioned, the spiritual ‘leprosy’ that is sin cannot be healed save by the grace of God’s forgiveness alone. But as shown by the example of Naaman’s initial stubbornness and the ignorance of the nine lepers healed by Jesus, we mankind are often too stubborn and proud in refusing to admit that we have been wrong and that we have sinned.

And that is why we end up not realising just how serious our sins and our conditions are, often until it is too late for us. And God has always been generous in extending His mercy and in being compassionate towards us regardless of our rebelliousness and constant attempts in disobeying Him. Then, secondly, the second important thing I mentioned is that God’s mercy is for everyone. He extends His merciful love to all and He is not biased for or against anyone.

This may not be easily observed in today’s Scripture readings, but the fact that two person mentioned prominently in them, namely Naaman the Syrian and the Samaritan leper who returned to give thanks to the Lord Jesus, were both foreigners and were often considered as pagans and looked down upon by the Jews made it truly significant. The fact that they gave thanks to God the blessings and wonders they have received put to shame the rest of those who considered themselves as God’s chosen people and superior to the pagans.

This is a reminder for us not to ever look down on anyone or think that others do not deserve God’s love and attention as much as we do, for God truly loves every single one of His children, all of us without exception. The Lord wants all of us to be healed from this terrible affliction of sin, the ‘leprosy of our souls’. Let us all have that necessary humility in us to acknowledge first of all how we are really in need of God’s healing grace, to be forgiven from our sins. And then let us all also humbly acknowledge how great God’s love for us had been that He still cared for us all these while despite all of our waywardness and stubbornness.

May the Lord continue to guide us all through these journeys we have in our respective lives. May He continue to bless us in our every good works and endeavours as He has always done, and may He strengthen in us the courage and resolve to dedicate our lives to His cause and for His greater glory from now on. Let us also be ever thankful for His ever great love for each and every one of us, and for His ever great patience for us all, His beloved but wayward ones. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

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