Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, October 13, 2013, "Jesus and the Outcasts", Fr. Ken Hughes, SJ

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St. Mary of the Angels OT 28 C 10/13/13

2 Kings 5.14-17; 2 Timothy 2.8-13; Luke 17.11-19

Though the gospel today says that Jesus was traveling through Samaria and Galilee, the literal translation indicates that Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee. You might say that He was threading his way between two extremes. On one side dwelt the foreign, unbelieving Samaritans. On the other side stood the Jewish establishment. Perhaps it was precisely because Jesus was walking between these antagonistic borders that these ten lepers, a mixture of both cultures, were able to meet Him. Being outcasts, they, too, walked between borders. They belonged to neither community. But they could do what neither the Jewish community nor the Samaritan community could do; they could form their own community inclusive of both. We might ponder the question: why is it that woundedness can form an inclusivity which faith seems not able to do? Why is the bond of woundedness stronger than the bond of faith? That is a question many gay people, divorced Catholics, illegal immigrants ask of us, the Church?

Now, these lepers, standing at a distance because of their leprosy, recognized Jesus and raised their voices together in a common cry, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us." Luke writes that Jesus saw them. By that he means that Jesus not only saw them with their physical affliction, but that Jesus also saw into them, into the condition of their souls. He saw that, first of all, they needed physical healing so that they could be re-connected with their family and community. But He also saw that they needed a deeper healing of the spirit. They needed to be re-connected with God. Had they felt abandoned by God as they felt abandoned by their religion?

Jesus called upon these lepers to trust him but He also allowed them a certain freedom of response. He did not perform a miracle then and there but sent them on their way to show themselves to the priests. The priests were their re-entry point to their re-connection with their community. Once approved by the priests, they could go back home. They must have sensed that something would happen. They must have trusted Jesus because they set off at once. It is then, while on their way, that they find themselves cured.

And here is where the freedom of response comes in. What should they do? Should they continue their journey to the priests and so be re-connected with their community and their homes, or should they return to the source of their healing, to God present in Jesus?

We know what happens. Nine chose to keep going, to be re-connected with their community; only one chose to return to Jesus. The issue is not just about thanking Jesus. The issue is recognizing more deeply the gift that Jesus has given them. Is the gift just a re-connection with the past, or is the gift an invitation to a radically new future? Symbolically, the nine Jews have chosen to re-connect with their family and community and, seemingly, go on living their lives as they did before their leprosy. The one Samaritan saw the gift of a whole new life. He is not a leper anymore. Nor is he the man he was before leprosy. He sees that he has been given another opportunity to live his life. Has he learned anything in the loss and recovery? He has a chance now to live his life in a far more meaningful, free and joyful way. How will he do that?

He goes back to Jesus and he does three things: he praises God, he thanks Jesus, and he goes forth in discipleship.

He praises God. From now on God will be the center of his life. He wants his life, by the way he lives it, to give full glory to God.

He thanks Jesus. He knows that it is through Jesus’ compassion that he has this new opportunity. His heart overflows with thanksgiving. He gets down on his knees to express that gratitude.

He goes forth in discipleship. When Jesus says, "Stand up," Jesus is saying, "Be resurrected." "Stand up" is the same word for "resurrection." Resurrection means a new life, not just a return to a former life. Then, Jesus says, "Go." Jesus is missioning him to give witness to the reign of God as revealed by Jesus.

Have you ever had leprosy and been cured? By that I mean: have you ever had a cancer or some other serious disease and been cured? Have you ever been in a car accident or some other accident and miraculously survived? Have you ever escaped a potential tragedy? Have you ever failed in a task or test, but given another chance? Were you ever in debt and someone helped you out? What happened? Did you breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Thank God," and then move on with your life pretty much as before? Those nine cured lepers probably lived good happy lives afterwards within the warm embrace of their families, friends, and synagogue. But was that all? Did nothing change inside them?

In today’s first reading, Naaman, the cured leper, could have moved on gratefully in the rich and powerful life he had before. But he knew that he had been given a brand new life. He could not return to his idols. Like the Samaritan, he returned to Elisha to praise God, to thank Elisha and to promise to live his life differently. He takes away with him two mule loads of earth to symbolize the new direction of his life devoted now to the one God of Israel.

I think that most of us have probably experienced a critical moment at some time in our life. We might call it a "leprosy" moment when we felt truly afflicted and lost, helpless. We might have been in a darkness of depression or despair. But then, somehow, we were rescued. God, either directly, or, more likely, through others, saved us. We were freed from a heavy burden.

How did we respond? Did we respond just on the level of relief and gratitude, -- which is not bad? Or, did we move more deeply to the level of conversion and transformation where our life is handed over more freely and generously and joyfully to God in discipleship?

Reflection on the gospel today may help us to make now the choice which we may not have made then. That is what this gospel story is for. Our loving God is always giving us another chance. It is never too late to praise God, to thank Jesus, and to go forth in discipleship.

Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ

Brighton, Mass. 10/13/13

 

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