Cycle C – Homily – 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 09 October 2022
Also called the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary I Lectionary II
2 Kings 5:14-17 2 Kings 5:1-3, 5-15c with Psalm 111
Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4 Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 with Psalm 66:1-12
2 Timothy 2:8-13 2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19 Luke 17:11-19
The themes found in today’s readings seem to be quite complex – even disjointed – on the surface and the subtle nuances that glue the readings together are easily overlooked. Let us carefully examine the intricacies of these scriptural passages and discover the common threads that tie the messages together.
The Psalm refrain is: “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.” If we look at that refrain in conjunction with these verses from the Psalm: “The LORD has made his salvation known…in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice” and “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God”, we see two very prominent ideas, first that God is in charge of salvation and second that salvation is for all and not just the Jews. Note that the word NATIONS is plural. We will see these same ideas in each of the other readings.
Before we examine the first reading from 2 Kings, it is important for us to understand some of the background of this story. After the time of Solomon and his son Rehoboam (more than 900 years BCE) the people revolted because of high taxes and the kingdom of Israel was split into the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. In 722 BCE the Assyrians swept in and destroyed the Northern Kingdom and deported the citizens. This dissolution and deportation became the story of the ten lost tribes of Israel. The Southern Kingdom became known as the Kingdom of Judah. (If you are interested in delving further into this history, check Google. Google does a good job of exploring this topic.)
The Biblical book, 2 Kings, was written about 900 years BCE. The Jews of that era were generally polytheistic with each god or goddess having his or her own territory and, of course, with the greatest and best God being their God, Yahweh (or Jehovah). This territorial and highly restrictive theology led to the belief that salvation was theirs alone and that they had to be in Yahweh’s territory when they died. These theological concepts had a great deal of evolving to do! The Babylonian Captivity, some 300 years later, helped dispel the notion that they had to be in Yahweh’s territory and after another 600 years (the time of Jesus), most Jews were monotheists.
So, what happened? Elisha, who was the Northern Kingdom prophet-successor of the prophet Elijah (who had been taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot), was known as a staunch champion of following God. Elisha was also known for doing wonderful deeds, even promoting miracles.
Naaman, who was a Gentile from Syria, contracted leprosy. Whether or not this leprosy was the Hansen’s Disease (as we call true leprosy today) is not known because in Biblical times all serious skin problems were called leprosy. Nevertheless, Naaman’s wife’s Israelite servant girl knew of Elisha’s reputation and confidentially suggested that Elisha would cure Naaman. So, Naaman, the Gentile. traveled to Israel to find Elisha. Elisha then instructed Naaman to go to the Jordan and plunge himself in seven times. Naaman did as he was instructed and he was cured of his leprosy.
Naaman returned to Elisha and tried to give him a gift in payment for his cure. Elisha would not accept the gift because healing is from God and available for all.
Two points of interest here. Naaman was a Gentile and not a Jew but Naaman recognized and believed in the power of Yahweh. At the same time, Yahweh’s word cured a non-Jew. Even so, Naaman picked up on a custom (superstition?) of the times. He asked Elisha for two mule-loads of dirt to take back to Syria with him. This seems like a rather strange request – until we recall that if an Israelite had Israeli dirt, that person could be on Israeli soil and could die on Israeli soil. Naaman was literally taking some of Israel with him!
We should also note that Naaman’s leprosy story is a foreshadowing of today’s gospel from Luke where we see the story of ten lepers being cured by God and the only one to return to thank Jesus was the non-Jew, a Samaritan at that. With this, we can see once again that Yahweh is a God for all people, regardless of geographic or religious boundaries.
In the reading from 2 Timothy we see both an affirmation and a re-affirmation of God’s role in all of this. God is not limited by human demographics or human constraints. We are told that God is always faithful – even when we are not. Furthermore, God cannot deny God’s self. These sentences can certainly and correctly be interpreted in many ways, including the universality of God’s salvific actions.
Let us all keep in mind another universality – the universality of the Psalm refrain: “The Lord has revealed to the nations, his saving power.”
With all of this in mind, we need to ask ourselves about how we can apply the lessons from these readings to our own lives. It seems to me that we should start by repeating some of the teachings that our religious ancestors learned – namely, that God alone is in charge of salvation; that God is the God of all; and that all peoples, all nations, and everyone across time and space are included in the universality of God’s salvific actions. And then, we must ask ourselves if we truly believe these points. Those are the points that today’s message is really all about.
We each need to remember that our God speaks to each of us personally. Sure, intermediaries such as angels and saints and church leaders are nice – and often very important. But we each have a direct line to God. If we want to be modern-day contextual, God is on our internal speed-dial – no byte limits or storage charges. It doesn’t matter who we are or where we are or what our nationality is or what our religion is, our God is there for us.
Dr Roberta M Meehan