October 11, 2019

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Second Book of Kings furnishes the first reading for Mass this weekend. Once the two books of Kings were a single volume, but as time passed, editors divided the volume into two parts.

These writings are among what Scripture scholars have categorized as the Old Testament’s “historical books.” While they focus on the careers of the early kings of Israel, as the name implies, none of the Old Testament is primarily about secular history in and of itself.

Instead, the Old Testament books all are concerned with religion and, more precisely, with the relationship between God and all the Hebrew people. In the view of the ancients, the most important question in life was how to be faithful to God. Nothing else mattered.

Therefore, while the kings are prominent in these books, religious figures very much are in evidence.

This weekend’s reading is an example. The central personality is not a king, but rather it is Naaman. Two strikes are against Naaman. He is a Gentile, and he is a leper. It was much more than a coincidence of birth, nationality, religious choice or bad health. Each circumstance represented estrangement from God. Leprosy was seen, for instance, as punishment for sin.

Naaman was cured by bathing in the Jordan River. The Jordan formed an important border between the Promised Land, overflowing with life, and the foreign world, filled with treachery, death and people who were unbelievers. Crossing the Jordan symbolized, and indeed was, entry into the land of God’s chosen people.

After being cured, Naaman went to thank God, represented by the prophet Elisha. It is a story, then, of divine mercy and being grateful to God.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy is the next reading. Paul reassures and challenges Timothy, an early convert to Christianity, one of his disciples and eventually a bishop. Paul assures Timothy that anyone who truly dies with Christ by dying to sin receives everlasting life with God.

St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. Leprosy occurs throughout the Scriptures, but modern scholars do not know precisely what the disease was. Even so, the ancient problem obviously was chronic, progressive and a fearful fate.

Unaware of the scientific workings of disease, ancient Jews saw a curse from God in leprosy, assuming that, somehow, somewhere, the leper had disobeyed God.

Fearing contagion, communities forced lepers to live apart. Lepers were not allowed any communication whatsoever with those “clean” of leprosy. Lepers lived in total isolation, rejection and want to the point of starvation.

This reading also has an ethnic component. Jews scorned Samaritans. Samaritans long ago had tolerated pagan invaders. They had intermarried with the pagans, producing offspring not purely Hebrew, thereby blurring the identity of the chosen people. Jews thought that Samaritans were the worst of the worst, incapable of anything good.

Amid all this, Jesus reaches out to lepers, heals and forgives. His actions were works of God.

Reflection

Presumably nine of the lepers cured in this story from St. Luke’s Gospel, as Jews, saw themselves as being entitled to God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The tenth leper, a Samaritan, was different. The Jews, at least, would have thought that his ancestors forfeited this claim to divine mercy. He had to live amid this perception. He was hopeless.

Nevertheless, the tenth leper believed in God, seeing that his mercy had come to him. He gave thanks to Jesus, whom the leper saw as the bearer of divine mercy.

By sinning we all have deserted God. We all are lepers and Samaritans in the biblical context. With unending love, God cures us of the weakening effects of our sin, restores us to life and welcomes us into the fold of those loyal to God.

We can repair our relationship with God with the help of his grace and mercy. God always forgives. †

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