My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Gospel reading gives us important guidance concerning our spiritual life. All true disciples of Jesus want to become fervent ones who sincerely love the Lord, and who, indeed, might become worthy of an intimate, personal, relationship with Him; and recently, in our Sunday Gospel readings, 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 and satisfactions; 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, I mean our growth as children of God before our Father in heaven, not before human beings, whomsoever they may be, here on earth.
As Jesus continued His journey to Jerusalem He travelled through Samaria and Galilee. As He was entering a certain 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 Jesus said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that, as they were on their way to the priests, they were cleansed. One of them -- when he saw that he was healed – returned, glorifying God with a loud voice, and fell down at the feet of Jesus giving Him thanks. He was a Samaritan. So, Jesus said:
Ten were cleansed were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?
Try to imagine that instant when those erstwhile lepers 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 family, loved ones, friends, indeed, from all healthy human society, THAT … IT … was obliterated; it had simply disappeared and they found themselves well again, no longer ugly and repulsive; now 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 would have felt burning gratitude too? We know for a fact that at least one of them did: for he had to return to Jesus without any delay to thank Him. The others were, perhaps, so excited at their recovery of health that they simply forgot all else; or else it might 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 feel that gratitude until after they had been certified clean by the priests; yet others may have felt they had first of all to visit family and begin picking up the threads of their previous lives once again. Nevertheless, in all those ‘other’ cases, not responding immediately to whatever grace of God did move them cost them the opportunity to express their gratitude to Jesus, for He had gone on, dismayed somewhat by their failure to return to Him.
Now, that is something of the utmost importance in the spiritual life, People of God. We are blessed if we feel in our heart gratitude to God for whatever it may be: experiencing moments of clear awareness of the beauty of God’s creation, being awe-struck at manifestations of His power, suddenly appreciating His goodness to us personally, being astounded at His wisdom in the Scriptures and at His supreme goodness and love in the gift of His beloved, only-begotten, Son for our salvation ….. there are countless ways in which God and His grace can touch our heart at any given time, and every one of them is a priceless blessing if indeed we respond immediately, if that touch actually moves our heart, and leads us to give thanks to God, admiring Him as we are moved.
One of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell the feet of Jesus and thanked Him. 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 Israelites, according to Jewish appreciation of those times. But of course, for some people, religion was then -- as it still is today for very many -- all about performing duties and obligations in order to save themselves, rather than being the most sublime expression of their mind’s communion with, and fulfilment of their heart’s longing for, the God Who loves them and is calling them.
It is a noble ambition, an admirable desire, to be a true Christian. It is, indeed the calling of all Christians and one which has touched the heart of many disciples of Jesus at some time or other; but sadly, those who respond whole-heartedly to such a calling and perseveringly seek to fulfil its demands are no more numerous than the one out of ten cleansed lepers:
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?”
One of the great causes of would-be-disciples thus losing their way is pointed out to us by the Lord today: count it a blessing to experience the mysterious working of the Spirit of God in your heart, but you must try to respond immediately, for that is a supremely important step on the way to intimacy with the Lord.
There is further instruction for us on this matter in our first reading today where, as you will recall, Naaman, the Syrian army commander, having bathed in the Jordan at Elisha’s command found himself miraculously cured of his disease. His heart was not just touched by the grace of God, it was truly moved, and being humbled with consuming gratitude, he forgot all about his own dignity as a royal representative with imperious royal duties and immediately:
Returned with his whole retinue to the man of God.
On his arrival Naaman 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 14:23:
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 have made Abram rich.’
Elisha, under God’s guidance and in imitation of Abraham, refused to accept Naaman’s gift – a gift offered in sincerity of heart – lest Naaman should then have thought that he had settled his debt with 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 to the man of God as he would have liked, Naaman’s sense of honour would not allow him to 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 own washing in the Jordan.
Personal prayer of worship and thanksgiving to the God of Israel Who, through His prophet, had cleansed him ...where would that lead Naaman? What were God’s plans for him??
Go in peace – Elisha said – ‘such faith will save you’, we might well add!
Once more we are being taught about gratitude before God; and the example of Naaman is of the deepest significance, for Naaman did not only say ‘Thank you’ to Elisha immediately, he also took serious measures to make sure that he would henceforth remember and be able to offer acceptable signs of gratitude to the God of Elisha, the God of Israel, even when he had returned to pagan 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 human capacities for our renewal and refashioning in Jesus by the Spirit: and that must, most surely, include an attentive and humble mind able to recognize one’s needs before God, and a heart and will committed to gratefully cherishing the remembrance of God’s resultant great goodness to us personally and to all of good will.