Sunday, October 13, 2019

Homily for Today

A Homily from Catholic Moment;

Our God is a healing God. He is always ready to offer us the healing we desire. The readings today especially the first reading and the Gospel make us to understand that our healing lies only in God. And in the second reading, St. Paul affirms that God is not just our healer, but He is equally our salvation. Hence, every miracle is a manifestation of the salvific power of God made visible in Christ.
During the second half of the ninth century (around 852-841 B.C), Damascus spread its tentacles covering parts of Palestine and Syria. It is in this context that the story of Naaman was born. The pericope from which our reading today was extracted described him as the commander of the Aramean army (Damascus). He led a military raid in which the Arameans gained victory over the Israelites (not because they were stronger but because due to the infidelity of the Israelites God always subjected them to nations even smaller than them as a way of punishment). The Arameans could not claim sovereignty over Israel and that is why Israel still retained its kingdom and was never a colony of them.
The 2 Kings 5 presents Naaman as a powerful man but at the same time lacking wholeness because he suffered a virulent skin disease. Apart from Miriam the sister of Moses who suffered leprosy (Nb 12:10) and Gehazi the disciple of Elisha (2 Kgs 5:27), Naaman is always associated with leprosy in the Old Testament. Although in the text he represented the supremacy of Aram over Israel yet the irony is that his search for solution to his problem in Israel will eventually reveal the supremacy of Israel over Aram for so many reasons:
1. The little Israel slave girl: the girl was not just little, but she was a slave captured from Israel during the Aramean raid. Though she meant nothing but God revealed her “somethingness” since it was only through her that Naaman came to know about Elisha the great prophet of Israel.
2. Elisha: Elisha was presented in the reading as the symbol of the greatness of Israel. Certainly, there were prophets of Rimmon (v.18) and other gods in Aram, but they could not restore the health of Naaman; only the prophet of Israel did.
3. Jordan water: Elisha asked Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan (v.10). Even though Naaman claimed the supremacy of the rivers Abana and Parpar over the waters in Israel (v.12), yet he was only restored through the waters of Israel.
4. The God of Israel: After his healing, Naaman confessed the greatness of the God of Israel not just over the gods of Aram but over the whole earth (v.15). This is the core of the message of this passage. When Naaman found out that he was cured, he came back to offer gift to Elisha which he rejected (a reminder to Naaman that he was not healed by Elisha but by God, and that God’s healing is free). Naaman not only came back to appreciate God (a link with the Gospel..the samaritan came to thank Jesus) but he equally confessed the greatness of God. And from confessing the greatness of God, he carried him back to Aram: “I will not offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except the LORD” (v.17). Thus, the implantation of the presence of the God of Israel in Aram was symbolized by Naaman’s request of loads of earth (sand) from Israel. These post miraculous actions of Naaman reveal that every miracle is intended for the salvation of man. Hence, miracles are not end in themselves but means to a higher goal, salvation.
We detect that every aspect of the life of Naaman was really touched in the whole narrative. He came as a commander and with superior mindedness, but he left a humble person. How? As a warrior, he does not need the permission of anybody to carry any quantity of sand he wants from Israel. He would have done that without anybody’s concent; but this time, no. He rather pleaded with Elisha, “Please, let me, your servant have much earth as two mules may carry (v.16-17).

From the whole narrative, we learn that:

1. God is the only source of our restoration and completeness. Naaman was highly esteemed by his king and the people but he was incomplete until he encountered God. His defect was restored and his emptiness filled.

2. In order to encounter this God, we must make a move. Naaman refused to remain in Aram, but moved down to Israel. If we must have an extraordinary life-changing encounter with God, we must depart from our comfort zones and make a spiritual journey.

3. Obedience to the voice of God is the sure path to our healing. Even though Naaman hesitated at first, but the moment he obeyed the voice of God through Elisha, he was healed.

4. The miracle of God is sure and perfect. This is signified in the flesh of Naaman that turned to that of a little child (v.14-15).
No one who truly encountered God ever remained the same. Naaman was not only healed physically but spiritually. For this, he could not let go of God. He confessed him and carried him down to Aram.

5. Persons are gifts of God’s mediating power. Through the little girl and Elisha, Naaman was healed. We must learn to value others and never look down on them because of whatever we think we are. Even in his esteemed position, Naaman defeated his pride and never looked down on the slave girl nor belittle Elisha.

Paul writes the second letter to Timothy from prison, in Rome. He felt abandoned by many of his friends, and some even lined up against him (2 Tim 4:9-16). On the other hand, the pagans considered him an evildoer and to his Jewish counterparts, he was a betrayer of the tradition of their fathers. Can we now see that Paul was in no way different from Naaman and the ten lepers in the Gospel. The Gospel made him an enemy of the people and denied him freedom of association as he now lavish in prison (like lepers in camps away from the people). But the consolation Paul gets in this difficult moment is the fact that Christ also passed through the same sufferings and misunderstandings before entering into the Father’s glory! For this, he says to Timothy and to himself: “Remember Jesus Christ!” (v. 8). To arrive at salvation it is necessary to tread the same way. “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. If we endure with him, we shall reign with him” (vv. 11-12). For he does not abandon his own.

GOSPEL: LK 17:11-19
In the time of Jesus some categories of persons were viewed as accursed: “the poor, the leper, the blind and the childless.”
The term leprosy in its ancient usage could mean any kind of skin disease that produces scales including non-contagious types (Nb 12:10). This is why the illness of Naaman (2 Kgs 5) never prevented him from having contact with others in the society. It is only the contagious ones that were banished from the society after being examined by the priest (Nb. 13:15-17). The book of Leviticus gives a succinct description of the diagnostic process of leprosy and any other skin conditions (Lv. 13:2-28, 38-39); and of the hair (v 29-37); and of the scalp (v 40-44); the isolation of the untreatable (v 45-46) and the ritual cleansing and reinstallation of the ‘well again’ (14:1-32).
The prescriptions concerning the ritual for the healed leaper is divided into separate ceremonies: The first day (14:2-8), the seventh day (14:9), and the eighth day (14:10-32).
The first day ritual cleansing is performed by the priest outside the camp or city. Requirements for this ritual include two live birds that are clean. On the eight day, the victim is expected to bring to the sanctuary, a jar of oil, and a lamb for various ritual offerings. And being placed at the entrance to the Tent by the priest, a sacrifice of his gifts is offered to Yahweh as reparation. The concept of reparation here gives us the understanding of how virulent skin diseases were perceived. There were often seen as a consequence of one’s sin. This can be seen in the case of Miriam who criticised Moses and was struck with a virulent skin disease by Yahweh (Nb 12:1-10). She was eventually shut out of the camp for seven days (v.15).This entails that anyone with virulent skin disease is quarantined and suffers social segregation. He is expected to wear torn clothing and unkempt hair; cover his upper lips and cry aloud, “Unclean, unclean”. As long as the disease lasts, the person will remain unclean and must live alone outside the camp, (v. 45-46). There must not be any contact with the rest of the people, because any contact with the victim makes the other unclean (an excerpt of the book…”Hour of Hope. Sermons on the healing power of Jesus).
From here, we are easily connected with the Gospel of Luke today. The ten lepers were hidden from the rest of the community.
The number ten in the Bible has a symbolic value: it indicates the totality.Thus Luke presents the ten lepers as an image of the entire human race far away from God, wounded by sin and bearing on their body signs of death that only the word of Christ can cure.

1. The lepers met Jesus while he was on his way towards Jerusalem. Evidently, Luke placed the healing while Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem where he will be crucified. Thus the healing of this ten lepers that represented the totality of the world (in the image of Jews and gentiles) was a foretaste of the ultimate healing that the world will receive when Jesus will mount the wood of the Cross. For they will only be healed by his wound (Is. 53:5).

2. They stood at a distance and begged him to have mercy on them. The lepers acknowledged their unworthiness to associate with the rest of the world and in humility asked for mercy. This is Luke’s way of saying that sin viewed in the image of leprosy creates a distance between God and man. Thus the lepers serve as perfect image of fallen humanity, and whose misery has not ceased to meet the mercy of God.
3. “Go and show yourself to the priests” was Jesus’s instruction to the lepers. This is Luke’s way of affirming that Jesus was a true Jew who knew the Law Lv. 13:2-28, 38-39; 14:1-32). He equally affirmed Jesus as the perfect revelation of God, the giver of the Laws.

4. One of the lepers came back to thank Jesus. Here we are tempted to limit the message to a simple gratitude, but more importantly, Luke wish to communicate that the action of this leper shows that Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant. Therefore realizing that he has gained his healing, he did not see the need to present himself to any other person except Jesus who is the perfect priest on which every other priestly dignity depends. Certainly the other nine were obedient to the instruction of Jesus, but Jesus regretted their action not because they did not come back to thank him, but because they failed to see in him “The One and Perfect Priest and Mediator of the New Covenant.” They failed to understand that Jesus is the fulfilment of that particular Law. They were still stocked in the old order which has been completed in Jesus.

1. We must be aware of our condition of being a sinners: No one is excluded. we are all together in this “spiritual leprosy” called sin. It was the only thing that united the Jews and the Samaritan in the Gospel today. It silenced the voice of superiority. It rendered all of them helpless. They found themselves in this common disgrace and suffering needing the friendship and solidarity of one another.

2. “Miserere nobis” is a word of humility and of healing:
If one considers himself just and perfect, inevitably one raises the barriers against the mercy of God. If we realize ourselves as “lepers” then we will not be proud of anything. How often do we acknowledge that we are unworthy and humbly ask for God’s mercy.

3. Only His mercy can locate us:
The lepers by their condition were forced to live in a camp outside the community. Our sins hide us from God (symbol of living outside the community), yet God is not hidden from us (Luke says they saw Jesus).
Listen, the mercy of God cannot be exhausted. God is mercy himself, and to doubt his mercy is itself a sin. God is never tired of us. He does not condemn us ‘outside his camp’. We ourselves have willingly chosen to live outside him. Like the lepers, we must resolve to come to Jesus for a healing touch and we will hear him say; ‘I still accept you even in your broken life of sin. I cannot refuse you even if your sin has rendered you virulent. I am willing. And for your sake I am ready to pause my journey to Jerusalem until I restore you to normalcy.

4. Gratitude is in the heart of our Faith:
Only the Samaritan gave glory to God, that is, the only one who understood immediately that the salvation of God does not come to us from any other except from Christ.
Hear the cry of your people who are wounded by their human conditions and are bleeding in misery Oh Lord. And since it has pleased you to reveal to us your healing power today, draw us to yourself that we may be made whole again. Amen.

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