Reflection for Sunday – October 9, 2022
Readings: Kings 5: 14-17; Timothy 2: 8-13; Luke 17-11-19
Preacher: Sr. Barbara Moore
Our first reading and Luke’s Gospel have a great deal in common. Leprosy was a dreaded disease but, in ancient times its name was given to many skin diseases that were not specifically leprosy. Those with the disease were isolated and forced to live outside their communities and apart from loved ones. They were considered ritually impure. There were feared. They were avoided because of the possible spread of the disease as well as the possibility of ritual impurity spreading. In the ‘70s and ‘80s men and women with HIV/AIDS often felt the same fear and isolation. And just as the lepers were isolated thousands of years ago, those who worked with HIV/AIDS patients found similar stories about them and their families.
We sense this reaction to the disease in the Gospel when the ten lepers meet him at the “entrance to the city, and called out to him for help.” The text also tells us Jesus was moving “between Samaria and Galilee.” He was close to despised territory and then meets ten lepers who were outside the community. Had the lepers heard he was coming and thus took a risk? They were prime examples of the needy men and women in their day. Feared and isolated from their loved ones, their request must have been very difficult for them and made out of desperation.
But, Naaman, who also was afflicted with leprosy, did not seem to be isolated and so dependent. He was a general in the King of Damascus’ army and the goods of life for him must have been plentiful. News of the power of the Israelite prophet Elisha, brought him to Israel and to the prophet for a cure.
The ten lepers, hearing about the power of Jesus and with nothing to offer, also made a request. “Master have pity on us.” Their position was so different from Naaman’s wealth and importance. Imagine the gifts and staff he brought to ask for a healing from the well-known prophet, Elisha. Naaman was asked by the prophet to immerse himself in the Jordon. He resisted. He must have thought. “How can I accept the superiority of the river Jordan over the waters of my home in Damascus?”
Leprosy and its cure are common to both stories. Naaman’s gratitude was delayed because something unspectacular was asked of him. All ten lepers were cured by Jesus but only one of the ten in the Gospel took the time to thank Jesus. While the ten left because he asked all of them to go and show themselves to the priests, any sign of gratitude among most of them was overtaken by the wonder of their cure. The one who returned and thanked Jesus was an outcast Samaritan. In a sense, his gratitude and Naaman’s are important because as different economically and culturally as they were by being non-Jews, lepers and not members of the chosen community, they were embraced.
As I age and spend more time with the Scriptures I find in both Testaments, the Old and New, many signs of the embrace of God. The cure of Naaman and the Samaritan leper are powerful examples of Jesus’ acceptance of the “other.”
In our day and age who are the “others?” For some it may be a person of a different race or religion. “Otherness” may be determined by income, nationality and place of residence. The sharp political divisions in our nation often have us calling the one who disagrees with us, “the other.”
What actions did Elisha and Jesus take today that may offer us a lesson or two when we deal with the “other?” Elisha offered Naaman what he knew and believed and when the cure took place, he refuses the many gifts of gratitude Naaman offered. The cured Samaritan, “Glorified God” and thanked Jesus. One lesson we can learn is Elisha’s and Jesus’ willingness to share and be open to the feared and the stranger, the “other.” Another lesson is the willingness to assist someone in need without strings being attached. The third lesson is the openness to help those who are different from us in the same way we treat those who are very close to us.
I believe our Baptismal call invites us to make the “other” and the “outsider” the new “center” in our Christian life. It is what Elisha and Jesus did and what Naaman and the Samaritan leper experienced. In these troubled and difficult times, I believe the call is the same for us.