October 13, 2019 – Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17, 2 Timothy 2:8-13, and Luke 17:11-19
I will deliver the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:
One of the things I enjoy about preparing homilies is that it often requires a “second level reading” of scripture; it causes me to dig deeper into its meaning. I invariably come across something in a scripture passage that leads to questions: Why did the speaker say that? What does that particular word mean? What was going on historically that would help me understand the passage? What were the traditions and customs of the time? To better understand context, what happened immediately before and after this passage that might help?
That is why I use a study bible in my preparation. It’s a bible that provides extra information to enhance my understanding of what I am reading. I highly recommend such a bible for everyone. Whenever I’m preparing a homily, I have that bible handy as well as other resources. I also have my devices with me – my laptop and my phone. I use the laptop to quickly access additional supporting information or read another writer’s unique viewpoint on a particular topic. I have my phone available with two people on speed dial: I reach out to Fr. Jim if in need of his wisdom or to my wife if in need of her permission to share a personal story.
Today’s readings had much to offer in terms of takeaways. They also raised questions and led me to dig deeper for more information.
There were two distinct elements that tied together our first reading from Second Kings and our gospel from Luke. Both passages detailed a story of lepers being miraculously cured of their infectious disease, and both included a heartfelt display of gratitude.
In the gospel, we heard that one leper, a Samaritan, realized he had been cured, and “…returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”
In the first reading, we heard about Namaan. Namaan was from Aram, present day Syria. Although a leper, he was an army commander and a man of high regard. He planned to travel to Israel to see a prophet that might be able to help him with his disease. Many servants traveled with him to see Elisha that day. If we had read the passages prior to the one we heard today, we would have discovered that Namaan was angry when Elisha told him to go and wash himself in the Jordan seven times. He hadn’t come all that way to be told to jump in a river. He was prepared to ignore Elisha and return to his home country immediately. It was the prodding of his servants that prompted him to follow Elisha’s instructions.
Afterward, when he had been cured, Namaan not only shared his gratitude with Elisha and offered him a gift, but he did so in front of his servants. He showed both gratitude and great humility.
However, there is yet another connection that ties all three of today’s readings together. Presented in all the readings is a simple message: God is everywhere.
We most often hear God referred to in the Old Testament as the God of Israel. Namaan even said, in his gratitude, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
His healing had awakened him to the fact that the God of Israel was the one true God. That prevailing notion that God was confined to Israel was captured best by Namaan’s odd request. He said to Elisha: “…please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth.”
He proposed taking as much dirt as his two mules could carry back to Aram with him. Why would he ask for dirt?
This past summer, Carol and I had the opportunity to vacation with all of our kids and grandkids in Florida. It provided us with relaxing family time and many great memories. As we were spending our last day on the beach, I noticed my granddaughter filling a plastic bag with sand. When I asked her about it, she said she wanted to take Florida home with her.
It was a sweet thought, although naïve. Ellie was too young to understand what a souvenir represented or what it meant to treasure a memory. In her young mind, she had enjoyed her time in Florida so much that she wanted to bring Florida home with her. The sand was not a memento; it was Florida.
Namaan’s request for two mule loads of dirt was also naïve. It was actually naïve on multiple levels. First, just like sand from Florida is still sand, dirt from Israel is still dirt – no matter where you take it. Second, he was not attempting to hold onto the memory of being cured. Namaan was not seeking a souvenir. His faulty reasoning was more profound. He truly believed God only existed in Israel.
Namaan was a man with significant duties in his home country. He couldn’t stay in Israel, but he wanted access to the one true God. The implication was the one true God was only present in Israel, so he would take Israel home with him.
However, today’s readings tell us that God is everywhere. Neither of the featured men cured of leprosy was a Jew – one was an Aramean and the other a Samaritan. God is available to all.
Paul captured this sentiment in his Second Letter to Timothy when he wrote: “…the word of God is not chained.”
Isn’t that a beautiful representation of our belief in the presence of God in our lives? “…the word of God is not chained.” God is limitless. He is everywhere. He is not and cannot be confined. We do a disservice to both God and ourselves when we limit Him in time and place.
We, like Ellie and Namaan, can be naïve in our relationship with God. We often confine Him. Do we believe God is only present to us in this church building at Mass on the weekends?
The weekly celebration of the Mass and praying together in community is crucial to our ongoing faith formation. Reception of the Eucharist, our source and summit, feeds us. However, if we restrict our relationship with God to an hour each weekend, God is no different than the dirt of Israel or the sand of Florida. We have demoted Him to a time and place and have chained Him to this structure.
“The word of God is not chained.” God does not grant limited access. He is not only available to certain people at certain times. God has no boundaries for those who seek Him. We have an all-access pass to the one loving and merciful God.
No need to load our mules with dirt.