If I were to ask you whether you remember a parable told by Jesus about a Samaritan and some Jews, I am sure that it would not have been today's parable that came to your mind; most, perhaps all of you, would have thought immediately of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Now that is instructive, because it tells us something about our modern attitude in regard to religion, and it also lights up a certain weakness in our spiritual character.
It is popularly thought in our contemporary Western society that religion is about being kind to people. God can’t even be imagined; people alone are real. Consequently, most of those who never go to worship at church would say of themselves, as proof of their deep-seated religious worth -- and how often do you not hear it said of one who has just died -- that they would do anything for anybody. Here we have an example of the process whereby relics of Christian teaching -- having been torn out of the context of the living faith -- are then used, by the devil and his unwitting human tools, to destroy Christianity.
It is, as you all well know, a supremely important teaching of the Christian faith that we should love our neighbour as ourselves; and this aspect of Christianity has been seized upon by non-worshipping, self-styled, Christians who say that getting on with, and being willing at times to help, our neighbour, is the only requirement for Christian living, all else being optional: "You might not see me at Church but I'm as good a Christian as the next man; I'd gladly help anyone who needs help." This sort of love-of-neighbour religion is very popular among Christians who have nothing but vestiges of the Faith left in their minds and hearts, because it solves for them the great problem of Church worship and Church obedience: for, as they glibly say, there is no need to go to Church in order to do good to others, and there is, most certainly, no need to obey her.
Of course, those who assert that Christianity only requires that we do some good to others, never think of offering a sacrifice of praise to God. No! 'Sacrifice of praise to God' sounds alien to their way of thinking: the word 'sacrifice', in particular, tends to offend them. Anyhow, He doesn't need anything, least of all a sacrificial offering of praise from us. Here we begin to touch at the heart of the modern weakness of Christian character which I mentioned earlier, for sacrifice implies loss, hurt, suffering, and many modern worldly Christians, not wanting to hurt anyone, including themselves, would gladly surrender any principles they might hold, should those principles prove offensive to others or seriously detrimental to themselves: for, being more attached to the world than to Jesus and His Church, they most certainly do not want to lose any of the worldly privileges, possessions, and pleasures to which they have grown accustomed and in which they take great delight. And so we have it that when certain young Muslims seem to be quite ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for what they consider -- albeit quite wrongly -- to be worth their sacrifice, many of these so-called Christians are not only outraged (rightly) at the evil of indiscriminate killing and partisan fanaticism, but also somewhat disgusted and frightened at the thought of such distasteful self-sacrifice, since their own pseudo-faith requires nothing more of them than to think occasionally of doing some good, some time, to some people.
This sort of faith, of course, is nothing short of a parody of true Christianity which is essentially founded on sacrifice and demands a fully sacrificial attitude in all its adherents.
As Jesus entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" So when He saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at (Jesus’) feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
If you remember from the first reading, Naaman, after being cured of leprosy by the prophet Elishah, said:
Please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD.
In other words he, Naaman, filled with gratitude, wanted to sacrifice to the true God, the God of Elishah and of Israel, and he thought -- according to the ideas prevalent in his day -- that he could only offer such worship on Israelite soil. Therefore, although he had to return to his king in Syria, he resolved to take Israelite soil back with him so that his worship of Israel's god would be acceptable.
That is also the significance of the Samaritan returning to Jesus as soon as he realised that he had been cleansed:
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at (Jesus’) feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
God had shown Himself present and active not simply in Israel, on Israelite soil, as in Elisha’s time for Naaman, but in Jesus; and so, that Samaritan returned to Jesus, shouting the praises of God active in and through Him, and throwing himself at His feet. Jesus' words to His disciples standing by indicate the real significance of this:
Where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well."
Jesus had healed the man, and he had rightly, as Jesus said:
returned (to Jesus, in order) to give (acceptable) glory to God.
People of God, the only way to give glory to God for the salvation given us through Jesus is by returning to Jesus Himself with grateful thanks; and thus, through Him, in Him, giving glory to God, as was foreshadowed by Naaman taking Israelite soil back to his home in Syria in order to be able to make his sacrifice acceptable to the God of Israel. No nominal Christian gives glory to God while remaining apart from Jesus and His Church.
Let us look a little deeper. Giving thanks to Jesus and glory to God is the essence of our Christian, Catholic, faith: that is the spirit of the Eucharist, for 'eucharisteo' is the Greek, the Gospel, word for giving thanks. At the Eucharist, at Mass, we give thanks and glory to God the Father, through Jesus, as we offer, first of all, Jesus' sacrificial offering of Himself to the Father:
Christ has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (Eph. 5:2);
and then as, in and with Jesus, we offer ourselves likewise in sacrifice:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Rom 12:1)
As the Catechism of the Church tells us:
The Eucharist, according to the traditions of East and West, is the 'sacrifice of praise’. (2643)
Now you can understand why I said, earlier, that Christianity is supremely sacrificial, because it offers to God the Father the supreme sacrifice, the self-sacrifice of His own beloved Son, from the rising of the sun to its setting, from East and West, North and South; and the Christian faith urges all its faithful to offer themselves likewise in sacrifice with and through their Lord. How pale, therefore, and pathetic is the version of Christianity professed by those who say it is enough to do what they call 'good' to others; those who, living largely apart from Jesus and His Church, have no appreciation of Christian sacrifice and are so fearful of it.
Let us listen again to one of the very earliest professions of faith passed on to us in the Church, as you heard, by St. Paul:
This is a faithful saying: if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.
The early Christians were quite prepared for sacrifice as such language shows. They were also absolutely convinced of the importance of remaining true to Jesus. For Jesus is the eternal Son, the Son who is always turned towards, relating and giving Himself entirely to, His Father. His disciples can only remain faithful if they follow His example; for authentic Christianity is not determined by the popular attitudes and opinions of any given time, but by loving faith in, and commitment to, Him Whose life, teaching, and self-sacrifice were shown -- by His Resurrection -- to be supremely and solely acceptable to His heavenly Father.
Today a significant part of our Christian difficulties and failings is due to our allowing religion to become world centred, indeed, people centred, rather than God centred. In that respect notice how Elisha cured Naaman of his leprosy with nothing more than the simple command to go and bathe in the Jordan. Naaman was both disappointed and offended for he had expected some solemn pronouncement and display in words and gestures: but they were not forthcoming: just a command, passed on by a servant, to go and bathe in the Jordan as directed. Likewise, in our Gospel story, Jesus is quite impassive; looking towards the pitiable lepers He simply says:
Go, show yourselves to the priests.
Such an attitude seems strange to us today, because so much of what we like to consider as religious fervour, Christian charity, and neighbourly service, is conceived and expressed in ways meant to be seen and appreciated by the world. And as a result of this, basically good people so often say too much, get themselves into all sorts of exaggerated expressions and wrong situations, because they feel awkward, ill-at-ease, with Jesus’ attitude so clearly expressed in His words:
Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No' be 'No,' for whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matt 5:37)
Jesus could be tender, as He was with the widow at Nain; He was deeply moved at times, as at the death of Lazarus and the weeping of his family and friends; but Jesus did nothing because people expected it of Him, He owed the world nothing, all He did was done for His Father. Today, many Christians are greatly impeded and hindered by the fact that they are accustomed to attempting to give what the world wants: namely, an emotional display accompanied by a plethora of words and replete with approved attitudes and expressions. And, devoting all their attention to carrying out such supposed duties and satisfying such spurious expectations, they are distracted from, and become ever less sensitive to, the requirements of the Spirit of Jesus.
Today, therefore, let us learn to look more intently at Jesus and commit ourselves more wholeheartedly to Him; and, satisfying ourselves with His approbation alone, let us thus allow ourselves to be further formed in His exclusive likeness, and come to know and appreciate ourselves as being redeemed by His grace alone.