My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Gospel reading gives us guidance and perhaps a gentle warning concerning our spiritual life. All disciples of Jesus want, or at some time did want, to become a fervent disciple, one who really loves the Lord, one who, indeed, might be worthy of an intimate, personal, relationship with Him. Recently we have heard advice from Jesus on how we can achieve that desire: just last week we were told by the Lord that we must not look for quick, earthly, rewards since here on earth we are servants whose job it is to work for the Lord, not to look for personal comforts; earlier, we were encouraged to treasure our faith and to have confidence in its power to raise us up with Christ; and yet earlier we might still remember being told to persevere in knocking, seeking, and asking.
Today, we have another piece of essential advice for our spiritual growth … and by that, of course, I mean our growth as children of God before our Father in heaven, not before human beings, whomsoever they may be, here on earth.
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. As He was entering a village, ten lepers met Him. They stood at a distance from Him and raised their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’
When He saw them, He said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were there not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?
Jesus had healed the ten men, all lepers, in rather a strange way:
When He saw them He said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’
All passed this test, obediently setting off to go to the priests as Jesus had commanded them to do; and then, on their way, they were cleansed! Try to imagine that instant when they first realized, almost incredulously, what had happened to them!! That horrible, flesh-devouring, corrupting, process, that cursed plague which had shut them off from all familiar contact with their loved ones, their family, even from all healthy human society, THAT … IT … was obliterated; it had simply disappeared and they found themselves well again, no longer ugly and repulsive; they were normal, like everyone else, and they would soon be able to meet with others in homely and familiar surroundings, doing ordinary, every-day, things, so lovingly remembered and so deeply missed!
It is hard, indeed, perhaps impossible to imagine that moment of utter and stupendous joy and relief …. But, what else, do you think they might well have felt? Surely, at the centre of that volcanic upsurge of joy and relief, they must have felt burning sense of gratitude too? We know for a fact that at least one of them did. Others perhaps were so excited at their recovery of health that they simply forgot all else. And it might also be that some were so desirous of getting the priests to witness their new-found cleanliness -- which was necessary before they could officially be allowed to join ordinary people once again -- that they did not avert to any such feeling of gratitude until after they had been certified clean by the priests and had first of all been to visit family and friends to begin picking up the threads of their previous lives once again. In those cases, the grace of God may well have moved them to a certain measure of gratitude but – not having responded immediately -- they lost the supreme opportunity to give expression to it, for Jesus, saddened by their failure to return with their Samaritan companion, had gone on His way.
Now, that is something of the utmost importance in the spiritual life, People of God. We are blessed if we feel in our hearts gratitude to God for whatever it may be … we are indeed blessed if we experience moments of clear awareness of the beauty of God’s creation, if for an instant we are awe-struck at manifestations of His power or with a sudden appreciation of His goodness to us, if we are astounded at His wisdom in the Scriptures and at His supreme goodness and love in the gift of His Son ….. there are countless ways in which God and His grace can move our hearts and every one of them is a priceless blessing if indeed we respond to that movement of grace and give ourselves to praising, thanking, loving, admiring Him as we are moved.
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 His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
You notice that only one, a Samaritan, responded immediately and came back gratefully to thank Jesus, and he was not considered to be a religious man as were the other nine, at least according to Jewish appreciation of those times. But then, religion is -- for some people – impersonal, being centred upon the objective performance of various duties and fulfilment of certain obligations, while for others it is, quite the contrary, being totally, selfishly, fixated on personal salvation. Too few appreciate it aright as the most intimate and personal relationship possible, being a sublime response to, and expression of, the human minds’ highest aspirations and the fulfilment of our heart’s deepest longings: communion with the One Eternal God, Who calls mankind to Himself, in and through His Only-Begotten Son Who, by His suffering, death, and Resurrection in our flesh, has won for us the abiding presence of His Most Holy Spirit in the Church He gave us.
It is a supremely noble ambition, a truly admirable desire, to become a faithful and committed disciple of Jesus. It is, indeed, the calling of all Catholics, and one which has tugged at the hearts, so to speak, of many Christians at some time or other; but sadly, too few of those who hear that calling persevere in their search for what originally delighted their heart and enthused their mind, so many turn aside from the blessings which God, in His great goodness, had planned for them:
Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’
And so, one of the great causes of Catholics and Christians thus losing their way has been shown us in today’s Gospel reading together with its remedy: count it a great blessing to ‘experience’, become aware of, the mysterious working of the Spirit of God in your heart, and respond immediately, for that is the supremely important first step on the way to intimacy with the Lord.
There is further instruction for us on this matter to be found in our first reading today where, as you will recall, Naaman, the Syrian army commander, had bathed in the Jordan at Elisha’s command and been miraculously cured of his leprosy. Immediately (notice that!):
Naaman returned with his whole retinue to the man of God. On his arrival he stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.” “As the LORD lives whom I serve, I will not take it,” Elisha replied; and despite Naaman’s urging, he still refused.
Why did Elisha so bluntly, even so vehemently, refuse Naaman’s grateful gift?
Let us turn back the pages of our Bible and read Genesis, chapter 14, verse 23:
Abram replied to the king of Sodom: “I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth, that I would not take so much as a thread or a sandal strap from anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I made Abram rich.’
Elisha, under God’s guidance and in imitation of Abraham, refused to accept Naaman’s gift – a gift offered in all simplicity and sincerity of heart – lest Naaman should have then thought that he had settled his debt to Elisha’s God, indeed, settled it with generosity. God was choosing Naaman for purposes unknown to him with the result that, being unable to pay his debt as he would have liked, Naaman’s sense of honour would not allow him to just forget what had been done for him in the land of Israel by a prophet of Israel’s God. Therefore he requested of Elisha earth from Israel in order to pray acceptably -- as he thought -- to the God Who had restored his flesh through the prophet’s intercession and by his washing in the Jordan.
Personal prayer of worship and thanksgiving to the God of Israel Who, through His servant, had cleansed him …. where would that lead Naaman? What were God’s plans for Naaman?
Go in peace – as Elisha said -- faith will save you.
Once more we are being taught about gratitude before God; and the example of Naaman is of the utmost importance, for Naaman did not only say ‘Thank you’ to Elisha, immediately; he took serious measures to make sure that he would henceforth remember, and be able, to offer acceptable gratitude to the God of Elisha, the God of Israel, even when he had returned to Syria to continue his work in the service of Syria’s ruler.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God is divine and so good that He wills to share His divine blessedness with us; we, however, are human and indeed sinful, and consequently must open up to Him something of the very best our humanity has to offer for our renewal and refashioning in Jesus by the Spirit: a grateful and needy heart, an attentive and humble mind, and a will committed to God in and with Mother Church.