The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time||October 10, 2004|
There is a very obvious lesson that we are opened up to as we listen to today's scriptures. We know well the Gospel story about the 10 lepers and how only one came back to give thanks. That reminds us, of course, that we need to be people who are grateful, who are thankful. As we listen to that incident, we probably wonder, "How often do we remember to give thanks to God?" There are many reasons to give thanks, of course.
Paul tells Timothy in the second lesson today that the word of God is not chained up; the word of God has been proclaimed by Jesus and still is proclaimed in our midst. How often do we remember to thank God for this gift? The very word of God comes to us, especially each Sunday as we celebrate the liturgy, but also any time we pick up the book of the scriptures. As Paul says at the end of the lesson, even if we are unfaithful, God always remains faithful. God never gives up on us. How often do we thank God for that?
How often do we thank God for just the fact that "I woke up this morning, another beautiful day in my life?" How often do we thank God for the ordinary things that happen every day? In the Gospel lesson, somebody is cured from a terrible illness and comes back and thanks God. But what about the way God takes care of us every day? Just keeping us alive, sustaining us in God's spirit and life. How often do we thank God for all of that?
We need to hear that Gospel message and the very immediate lesson that comes forth from it: That we must be people who thank God.
In one of Paul's letters, he says to the people, in the translation that we usually hear, "Always be thankful." But the words that Paul actually used were "Always be Eucharist." For, the Eucharist that we celebrate means "thanksgiving." He said always to be Eucharist - our whole being a celebration of thanks to God. That's one thing that we certainly need to hear today -- that as we celebrate this liturgy and as we go forth from it afterward, we want to continue to be a Eucharist, a thanks to God at every moment, because God is always faithful, always with us at every moment.
But there's more to these lessons than simply that obvious one about being thankful.
In both the first lesson and the Gospel lesson, you may have noticed that the person coming to be cured was not a member of the chosen people. The chosen people, the Jewish people, with their scriptures and their law, set themselves apart; they set up boundaries. They had certain rules and prescriptions that everyone had to follow to be faithful to the covenant that was made with God at Mount Sinai. And they were very careful to keep those boundaries around them and exclude other people.
These lessons tell us something very important about God: God doesn't go by the boundaries that we have set up. Naaman the Syrian was actually an enemy general, one who had carried out war against the chosen people, and yet when Naaman came to Elisha the prophet, the prophet of Yahweh, the prophet of God, Elisha accepted him. Elisha didn't send him away or say, "You're not part of us." He welcomed him, told him what to do in order to be cured. Naaman went home changed, cured, but also believing in God.
In the Gospel lesson, it was the same thing. The one who came back out of the 10 was the one who was a Samaritan. Again, here we find someone who was excluded and an enemy. The Jewish people and the Samaritans hated one another; they were at odds with one another in a very profound and constant way. A Jew would not associate with a Samaritan. You may remember in the Gospel, the story about the journey that Jesus made to Jerusalem; at one point they came to some Samaritan villages, and they went around those villages rather than go through, because the villages did not want them to come. They were enemies. But again, God doesn't pay any attention to those boundary lines that we set up when we make other people our enemies or become enemies to other people.
God ignores all that. God reaches across any boundary line. To any rule or prescription that we set up to separate us from others, God says, "No." Our God is a God of infinite love. Without limit.
Remember what we say in the Eucharistic prayer? Yes, God you are holy; you are kind to us and to all -- to all. For this we thank you, and above all for Jesus Christ your son. You sent him into this world because people had turned away from you and no longer loved one another. Jesus opened our eyes and our hearts to understand that we are brothers and sisters. All of us, everywhere in the world, we are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the one God, and so often we let that truth disappear from our everyday life. We don't really think of people on the other side of the world, in Iraq, for instance, as our brothers and sisters. Not as enemies, but as our brothers and sisters, loved by the same God who loves us. Or our brothers and sisters in Haiti who are suffering so desperately right now. How easily we forget they are our brothers and sisters. And God is the one God of us all.
So that is a very important truth that comes through in these lessons today. We might not notice the message at first, but when we listen carefully we notice how God is reaching out beyond the boundaries that people set up, to embrace all people. We need to learn from that in order that we too can open our hearts and accept everyone as our brother and sister.
One other thing that becomes very clear when you listen carefully and deeply to these lessons: Jesus told the lepers to go to the priests to verify that they were cured, and obviously something happened as they were going along. One person stopped. We would think, at first, that he probably stopped simply because he was going to go back and give thanks, but it's more than that.
The Jewish people would go to the priests at the temple in Jerusalem. A Samaritan would not go to the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritan would go to Mount Gerizim, where their temple was. There was a dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans that asked, "Is God in the temple at Jerusalem or is God in the temple at Mount Gerizim?" Well, this Samaritan person had a profound insight, and one that we must remember: God is not in the temple at Jerusalem. God is not in the temple at Mount Gerizim. God is in Jesus. That is why he went back and fell at Jesus' feet to worship him. God was there.
God is now revealed to us in Jesus. God isn't limited to any temple anywhere. God is, in Jesus, revealed to us as the fullness of God and as one of us. That is an extraordinary truth. We could so easily miss it, but once we know that God is revealed to us in Jesus, how important it is then to do what God says regarding Jesus.
In another incident in the Gospel, God affirmed Jesus in the transfiguration. God said, "This is my beloved son, the chosen one in whom I am well pleased." Then God said to us, "Listen to him." We must listen to Jesus in whom God is revealed. Listen to Jesus. If we come now to understand deeply that God is revealed in Jesus, we must listen to him.
There are many, many different things we could immediately think of that Jesus teaches us we must listen to. One of them, of course, is today's Gospel. We have to reach out to those in need. Jesus constantly was reaching out to the poor, the suffering, the oppressed, the ones who were excluded. We must do the same thing. Listen to Jesus. Follow what he does and what he says.
It's very obvious that the ones to whom Jesus reaches out first of all and most of all are the poor. We must make that a very important focus of our lives in a very practical way. We as individuals must do that, but we must also do that as a society.
Think about this as we continue to determine how we are going to vote. What public policies are really policies that help us reach out to the poor? That help us to change the lives of the poor for the better?
Back in 1986, when the Catholic bishops of the United States published a pastoral on the U.S. economy and how it was working or failing to work in our country, we suggested that every time we make decisions, either as individuals but especially in groups, we must always ask three questions: What does it do to the poor? What does it do for the poor? And how do the poor participate? What if we asked those questions when we began to work for public policies in our country? What does welfare reform do for the poor, to the poor? How do they participate? Does it really make their lives better? We need to find out.
If we really are going to listen to Jesus, who is God, the fullness of God revealed in Jesus, we must heed him, and we have to begin to put the poor in the forefront of our lives. That is true within the church too. I'm very concerned because this week, every parish got in the mail some directives about how we're going to do some strategic planning within the diocese. Of course, it is about closing parishes; that is what it is really about. They list how many priests we have, what we're going to have a few years from now, and so on. And I'm wondering, Will we in this diocese ask those questions? When we make decisions to close this parish or that parish, will it be because we have asked the question, "What will it do to the poor, for the poor? How have the poor really participated in this decision?
I think that is a very important thing for the church to do, too. How do we reach out to the poor as a church? If we constantly close churches in our city where the poor are and open new churches in the suburbs for the affluent, what have we done to the poor and for the poor? And did the poor really participate in those decisions? We all need to ask these kinds of questions, if we are going to be faithful to Jesus.
There is one other very obvious thing that Jesus teaches us in the lessons today. As we try to see with eyes of faith like that Samaritan man, see in Jesus the very presence of God, we come to know Jesus is God and is revealing to us how God wants us to be. Notice, in both of the examples today, the person who was loved was an enemy. Naaman, the Syrian general who had attacked the Israelites, was loved by Elisha. What happened when he was loved? He was transformed, and he became a friend. The Samaritan, who was an enemy to the Jews and an enemy to Jesus, was loved by Jesus, and he was transformed. He became a friend.
Aren't both of these extraordinary examples of what happens when you really love your enemy? Do good to the one who hurts you. This is what Jesus teaches us. Jesus isn't just one of us, truly one of us, but Jesus is also the one in whom God is fully revealed.
As we listen then to God's word today, we must listen deeply and not only learn that we have to give thanks constantly - be Eucharist every moment - but we also have to listen to Jesus in whom God is fully revealed.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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