Twenty Eight Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading 2 Kings 5:14–17
Psalm Psalm 98:1–4
Second Reading 2 Timothy 2:8–13
Gospel Luke 17:11–19
O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Reading the Word
2 Kings 5:14–17
So Naaman went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, Elisha; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.” But he said, “As the Lordlives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.
2 Timothy 2:8–13
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Hearing the Word
Today’s liturgy emphasizes that God’s salvation is an ever-present offer, extended to all people, and it identifies three ways of accepting this offer.
The first reading is a story of the conversion of a Syrian general, Naaman, who suffered from leprosy. Hearing that there was a prophet in Israel who might be able to heal Naaman, the Syrian king sent a request for help to the Israelite king. The latter, knowing leprosy to be incurable was desperate, thinking that the Syrian king was seeking a reason for war. At this point the prophet Elisha intervened, advising his king to invite Naaman. Significantly, Elisha’s message spoke not of healing Naaman but that he should come to “learn that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8). To say that there is a prophet in Israel implies that there is a God in Israel whom the prophet represents. Elisha was not so much interested in healing the general of leprosy as in bringing him to God. When Naaman arrived, Elisha did not go to meet him, as would have been expected. Instead he sent a messenger instructing Naaman to wash himself seven times in the Jordan river. The general was understandably offended by the prophet’s behaviour and refused to obey. Eventually, convinced by his servants, he acted “according to the word of the man of God”. This acceptance of the prophetic word holds the key to his healing. When Naaman obeyed Elisha’s word and immersed himself in the Jordan, he became clean. Elisha neither touched nor spoke to Naaman: this cleansing was an act of God. Naaman’s conversion followed. Meeting Elisha, the gentile general declared, “now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel”. This was Naaman’s confession of faith, acknowledging the existence of only one true God, the God of Israel. Naaman then requested “two mule loads of earth” to take back to his homeland, and he declared that he will no longer worship any other god, except the true God he has now come to know. This odd request reflects an ancient custom, and means that Naaman decided to build an altar for God on the foundation of soil taken from Israel. This altar will allow Naaman to worship the God of Israel in a foreign land.
This is a story of a gentile who came to believe in and worship the one true God. The first step towards his conversion and salvation was obedience to the prophetic word of Elisha. The story teaches that acceptance of God’s salvation begins with hearing and with an obedient response to God’s word delivered by the prophets.
In the second reading Paul calls Timothy’s to remember how salvation became possible, and what one needs to receive it. Salvation came through Jesus Christ, whose resurrection lies at the very core of Paul’s Gospel. Christ death as “a descendent of David”, a real human being, and his subsequent victory over death, brought God’s offer of salvation to all. Paul, a prisoner at that time, offered his life and freedom in service of this news of salvation, so that all might hear it. Paul then further discusses this salvation making four statements which share an identical structure. Each statement begins with an “if” part, describing a response of the believer to the Gospel, and concludes with a part indicating the outcome of this response.
The first two statements indicate positive responses – conversion and endurance. If believers die with Christ they will also live with Christ. “Dying with Christ” refers to the conversion and baptism (cf. Rom 6:8) which lead to a new life in Christ. These acts result in having Christ’s immortal life in oneself. Second, endurance leads to “reigning” with Christ. Enduring in the profession of faith in this life will lead to eternal life alongside Christ.
The last two statements indicate negative responses – denial and faithlessness. First, those who deny Christ will be denied by him (cf. Mark 8:38). This frightening statement speaks not of punishment for sins but of human free will and power to decide. A conscious and willing rejection of Christ as the Lord and Master of one’s life will be respected, and will result in not belonging to Christ in eternity. If someone does not wish to belong to Christ, Christ will not force them to do so. Those who disown Christ in this life will not belong to him in eternity.
The final statement counterbalances this frightening possibility, stating that even when believers are faithless, Christ remains faithful. Unlike decisive and conscious rejection of Christ, the failings and faithlessness of believers will always be met with forgiveness. This is so because faithfulness is a part of Christ’s identity and he cannot deny himself. God is faithful to his promises and offers salvation to humanity through Christ. And this offer will forever remain extended to anyone who wishes to accept it.
Here, Paul assures Timothy that his life in the service of the Gospel serves the salvation of all people willing to accept it through conversion, and remain with it through endurance in faith. This offer of salvation remains permanent, awaiting the right human response.
The Gospel story shows ten lepers searching for the cleansing of their bodies and their restoration to society, that is they are searching for “mercy”. While all lepers were religious and social outcasts, the Samaritan leper was far worse off than the other nine because he was a foreigner, not counted among God’s people. Jesus hears their pleas and commands them to go and show themselves to the priests, as was required by the Law (cf. Lev 14:2-32.). They were healed as they went, but nine of them, eager to complete the cleansing rite continued on the way to meet the priests. Only the Samaritan turned back. Praising God, this foreigner prostrated himself before Jesus, acknowledging that God had healed him. While the nine Jewish lepers limited themselves to the fulfilment of their ritual obligations, the Samaritan returned to the source of his healing with grateful acknowledgment of God’s mercy acting through Jesus. Jesus’ words, which should be translated, “your faith has saved you”, deliver the core message of the story. To accept salvation in its full extent, that is physically and spiritually, one must acknowledge God’s power operating in one’s life and receive it with gratitude.
Today’s liturgy reveals that God’s offer of salvation is permanent and open to all who welcome it. This acceptance requires a response to God’s word, which came to Naaman through Elisha, and which comes to Christians of all times through the words of the Scriptures. Paul reminded Timothy that the great offer of God’s salvation came through Jesus Christ. Those who accept Jesus through conversion, and who endure in faith, will reach the fulness of salvation. The Samaritan leper was restored physically and spiritually when he acknowledged with gratitude the true author of his healing – the merciful God. By turning to this God acting through Jesus, the Samaritan showed his faith and thus became a member of God’s people. Unlike his companions who experienced only physical healing, this former outcast was set on the way to eternal salvation. The offer of this salvation remains always open because God is faithful, which the Psalmist acknowledged writing that God always remembers “his steadfast love and faithfulness”.
Listening to the Word of God
Today’s biblical message calls for a sense of deep gratitude for what God intends our life to become, for salvation. People of all ages and all cultures seek and long for something beyond and greater than the daily life we are all so familiar with. For this reason, people in former times, after the day’s work was done, sat around fires telling stories about how the world was made, about heroes, about good and bad spirits, about gods and about what life might be after we die. For the same reason today, we go to cinemas to see fantasy movies or action movies where good and bad characters fight for victory. One common expectation we have of all our stories, movies and novels is that good would prevail over evil and life triumph over death.
Today’s liturgy assures us that God intends this world, and our lives, to come to a good, satisfying conclusion. To use movie language, God wrote a scenario for this world that has a happy ending. In the language of our faith, we call this good conclusion, “salvation”. To be sure, salvation comes at a great price, this price being the death of Jesus, as Paul reminds Timothy. This is yet another reason to be deeply grateful.
However, just like actors in a movie, we ourselves cannot merely sit around and wait for salvation; we have to do something to partake in it. We are active actors in the story of our lives and in the story of our salvation. This might sound quite frightening when we look at our smallness and powerlessness. However, salvation and ultimate happiness are simpler and easier to reach than many think.
We tend to overcomplicate our lives when we start thinking and acting as if God had made the path to himself very difficult. Let us think about the Samaritan leper. While his nine companions went on to fulfil some ritual obligations of the Law, this Samaritan simply returned to Jesus expressing gratitude and worshiping God through Jesus. Life might be difficult, and we need to fulfil many obligations. But, like a good parent, God does not require of us much more than to be as grateful children before him. In our troubled and complex world, perhaps the simplest but crucially important thing we can do, is to stop and kneel in prayer, like the helpless Samaritan, thanking God that we are alive, and have another day to live before us.
We are also often overwhelmed and depressed by our imperfections, faults and sins. We think that they make us unworthy, bad, unlovable or even evil. It such moments we must recall the words of Paul in the second reading. Even when we are faithless, Jesus remains faithful because he cannot deny himself. We joined ourselves to Christ through our faith and baptism, we belong to him. Even when we fail miserably, he remains with us. Jesus, who gave his life for us, will surely not turn away a repentant sinner who returns, even after a grave fall.
We reach for God’s salvation by staying close to Christ and through hearing his word in the Scripture. We draw ever closer to him by not giving up on ourselves when we fail, and by coming before God with gratitude, prayer and worship. These steps do not require any superhuman effort, God made salvation available for us, ordinary people.
“Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author”
Am I grateful for the prospect of salvation? What am I doing to reach for it?
Have I ever doubted or despaired about the possibility of my salvation? Why?
Response to God
My prayer this week will be that of gratitude for every day that God gives me, and for the grace of knowing him and being able to come to him.
Response to your World
In the light of today’s readings, I will reflect on how I can be reaching more effectively for salvation and do it.
In our group we will hold a thanksgiving service in recognition of God giving us the great gift of hope for a glorious future with him.
Lord Jesus, like the Samaritan leper I come to you today with humble gratitude that you continue to heal my soul, day after day, from hurts and fear. Be with me always when I feel alone and isolated, and make me feel your presence and do not ever let me lose the hope and perspective for salvation. Amen
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.