Oct. 10, 2010 − Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
What do you suppose the neighbors thought when Naaman returned from his journey to Israel with, of all things, two mule-loads of dirt? For a Syrian general to head to Israel was in itself very odd – but to bring back bags of soil? Of course, Naaman was a leper, and desperate men will do desperate things.
The truth was that Naaman had been a leper, but he was now a grateful ex-leper. After some hesitation, he had followed the instructions of the Israelite prophet Elisha and had bathed in the Jordan River. And, behold, he was now cured, according to the reading from 2 Kings. Naaman was very grateful indeed and thanked Elisha, who refused any gift.
So why pack the Israelite dirt back to Syria? Because Naaman, like most ancient pagans, thought in terms of a different god for each nation. The God of Israel was obviously real, and he was obviously powerful, unlike the god Naaman worshiped back home, who couldn’t or wouldn’t heal him. But old ways of thinking die hard, and the only way Naaman knew to worship Israel’s God was by standing on Israel’s soil, which he would pour out in a hidden closet or in some corner of his garden.
We Christians realize that the God of Israel is indeed real. In fact, he is the only real God. We have the blessing of knowing him even more fully than Elisha did because we know Jesus, God incarnate. We even know we can worship him anywhere at any time. But Naaman’s instincts were correct. A God who has done so much for us is worthy of our worship no matter what the cost.
We read about another healing of lepers in the passage from Luke 17. This time there are ten of them, and Jesus does the healing. Again there is a foreigner, a Samaritan, who is healed. He alone of the ten turns back to give thanks that he has been cured from leprosy.
Naaman the Syrian and the unnamed Samaritan were both lepers and both foreigners. Both were healed by the power of God. But they shared a reaction that is even more important than their disease or their nationality – they were grateful for what God had done for them.
Gratitude is the foundation of stewardship, the thankfulness to God for all he has done for us and all the gifts he has given to us, beginning with life itself. Even though most of us don’t suffer from the disease of leprosy, we are “spiritual lepers,” cut off from the heavenly society by our sin. The spiritual cleansing we’ve been given by Christ deserves our greatest gratitude.
Or will we be like the other nine lepers whom Jesus cured, and many in the Old Testament Kingdom of Israel? Will we take for granted what God does for us and gives us and not bother to give thanks and seek to worship him?
Gratitude or disregard? What will be our own response to God’s loving kindness?