28th. Sunday of Year (C)
(2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19)
If I were to ask any of you whether you remembered a parable told by Jesus about a Samaritan and some Jews, I am confident it would not have been today's parable that came to your mind; most of you would probably have thought immediately 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 contemporary Catholic spiritual character.
It is popularly thought in Western society that religion is about being kind, nice, to people. God can’t be proved, can’t even be imagined; people alone are real. Consequently, most of those who never go to worship at any 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 (or would have done) 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.
Let me now just quote a modern Scripture scholar (Jacques Guillet) in this context:
On reading the Gospels one notes that the word ‘faith’ comes to the lips of Jesus much more frequently than those of ‘love’, ‘justice’, or ‘pardon’. Of course He most certainly does not forget either the ‘golden rule’ or the second commandment inseparable from the first. But it is clear that, in His daily encounters with people and in the way He appreciates and responds to them, the main criterion for Him is that of Faith.
It is, as you all well know, a supremely important teaching of the Catholic/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, your neighbour is the only necessary 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 also popular among certain former Catholics who have nothing left in their minds and hearts but some vestiges of the Faith, because it solves for them what could be the great problem of Church worship and Catholic obedience: for, as they glibly say, there is no need to go to Church in order to do good to others, and there is, consequently, no need to follow her teachings or bother about, let alone obey, any ‘so-called’ commands of God!
Of course, such persons who assert that their pseudo-Catholicism 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. Here we begin to touch at the heart of the modern weakness of our Catholic character which I mentioned earlier, for sacrifice implies possible loss, hurt, suffering, and many modern-worldly Christians and former-Catholic believers would gladly surrender any principles they might have been taught or might have held should those principles prove offensive to others or 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.
This sort of attitude has strange repercussions in that when certain 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 almost equally disgusted (and not a little frightened) by the thought of such self-sacrifice, since their own pseudo-faith requires nothing more of them than to think occasionally of doing some possible good, at some convenient time, to someone they might happen to come across or become aware of.
This sort of faith, of course, is nothing short of a parody of the original and true Catholic Christianity which was essentially founded on sacrifice and still demands a truly sacrificial attitude in all its adherents. Let us look at Jesus our Blessed Lord Himself in our Gospel reading for today:
As Jesus was entering a village, ten lepers met (Him). They stood at a distance from Him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And 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 they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
If you remember from the first reading, Naaman, after being cured of leprosy by the prophet Elishah, said:
Please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth; for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god, except 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 and offering his sacrifice of praise as soon as he realised that he had been cleansed:
One of them, realising 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.
For that Samaritan God had shown Himself present and active not simply in Israel, on Israelite soil, as in Elisha’s time for Naaman, but in the very Person of Jesus. A most wonderful revelation by God and also a most wonderfully faithful appreciation and awareness by that Samaritan which compelled him to return to thank God -- in Jesus and through Jesus -- with a most heart-felt sacrifice of praise! Shouting loud the praises of God and throwing himself at Jesus’ feet he was greeted by words of Jesus to His disciples which indicate both the sublime and the sad significance of what was happening:
Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give glory to God?" And He said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."
Jesus had healed the man, and he had rightly, as Jesus said:
Returned 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 that he might be able to make his sacrifice acceptable to the God of Israel.
No nominal Catholic can give glory to God while proudly remaining apart from Jesus’ sacrificial offering of praise to His Father on our behalf in His Church.
Let us look a little deeper. Giving thanks to Jesus and glory to God is the essence of our Catholic and Christian 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 handed Himself over for us, as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma (Ephesians 5:2);
and then as, in and with Jesus, we likewise offer ourselves in sacrifice:
I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
As the Catechism of the Church (2643) tells us:
The Eucharist, according to the traditions of East and West, is the 'sacrifice of praise’.
Now you can understand why I said, earlier, that Catholic 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 Catholic Church urges all her faithful to offer themselves likewise in sacrifice with and through their Lord to the Father. How pale, therefore, and pathetic is the version of Christianity (it cannot even be considered as a version of Catholicism) professed by those who say it is enough to do what they call 'good' to others!!
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 saying is trustworthy: if we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we persevere 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 Catholic difficulties and failings is due to our allowing our religion to become too world-opinion centred, people centred, even too Pope-personality centred, rather than God - His truth and His grace - 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 apparently quite impassive; looking towards the pitiable lepers He simply says:
Go, show yourselves to the priests.
Such an attitude seems strange to many today, because so much of what they like to consider as Catholic loyalty and fervour, popularly acceptable Christian charity and neighbourly service, is conceived and expressed in emotional ways meant to be seen and emotionally appreciated by others, by the world. And as a result of this, basically good people so often feel awkward, ill-at-ease, with Jesus’ attitude so clearly expressed in His words:
Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes' and your 'No' mean 'No'. Anything more is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37)
Jesus could show tenderness at times, as with the widow at Nain; He was also 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 and had nothing to Personally prove before the world; all He did was done for His Father. Today, many Catholics and 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 -- so essential many think for their own ‘standing’ with and among people around – that they are distracted from, and become ever less sensitive to, the requirements of the Spirit of Jesus.
Today, therefore, let us Catholics learn to look more intently at Jesus and commit ourselves more humbly, more simply, but in no way less wholeheartedly, to Him Who deigns to dwell among us still, in and through His Church; and, seeking to satisfy ourselves with His approbation alone -- known to us by the fact of having done His will in accordance with the teaching of Mother Church and by the testimony of our prayerful and fearful conscience, not from the praise of men -- let us thus allow ourselves to be further formed in His exclusive likeness by His Spirit of love and truth, and thus come to know and appreciate ourselves simply and solely as His disciples, being redeemed by His Self-sacrificial love, and living humbly by the grace and power of His most Holy Spirit for love of Him Who is (Ephesians 4:6) the:
One God and Father of (us) all, Who is over all and through all and in all.