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Soil, suffering, thanks and praise

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year. Fr Timothy John Calvert preaches on an outsider's thanks and praise.

Despite the suffering found in today's readings, we are being invited to reflect upon the joy of our faith, to be grateful for receiving it.

Naaman the Syrian, suffering from leprosy and a bad temper, has gone to Elisha that his flesh may be healed. Upon being told to wash in the Jordan he erupts with rage; he can wash in bigger and better rivers at home.

However, persuaded to take Elisha's advice, he immerses himself in the Jordan seven times, and his flesh becomes once more like a little child's. 'Now I know,' he declares, 'that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.'

Naaman, buried deep in suffering, has been healed of his affliction. But more than that, the outsider has been brought into the joy of believing, of living in the presence of the God of Israel.

He departs after loading his mules with as much of the soil of Israel, this earth consecrated to the Lord, as they can possibly carry. With his relic of the Holy Land he is able to share in some way in the life of worship and thanksgiving, which is Israel's vocation. The outsider can now bring himself near to that mystery abiding in the chosen people.

In the Gospel we meet another outsider who is afflicted with leprosy. Jesus is confronted by ten lepers crying out: 'Jesus, Master! Take pity on us.' Like the prophet Elisha before him, Jesus prescribes a formula for their healing, and as they are going to show themselves to the priest, they are suddenly free from their affliction.

It is only now that we discover that one of these lepers is a Samaritan, someone on the fringes of God's people. But it is this man who returns to thank Jesus.

This outsider however doesn't go back to Samaria with bags of topsoil, he isn't clutching the shirt-tails of a holiness belonging to others. It is not just his illness that has no more power over him, for now even the distinction between Jew and Samaritan is breaking down.

In coming to Jesus, this Samaritan is swept right into the joy at the heart of the new covenant, of being touched by the presence of God in this Jew from Galilee. And this joy can only break from him in thanksgiving, in rendering to Jesus the thanks due to God for his healing, his new life.

In Jesus, outsiders are brought into the joy of being God's people, and are graced with the wonder of offering prayer and thanksgiving to the Father. But this is only so because Jesus endures being afflicted for our salvation. He, the eternally begotten of the Father, becomes as a leper.

In the sorrows of the cross, Christ becomes an outcast, a man buried in affliction. But in the brightness of Easter, his once-beaten flesh is made as new. Christ rises from the tomb, that we may be reborn within this joy of living in the presence of the ever-living God. Now God's people are no longer defined by soil or by race, but by sharing the thankfulness of the Risen Son of God.

This is the wonder of Christian life; that we are called into this life of thanksgiving present in the people of God; a thanksgiving we entered in baptism, the washing in the new Jordan River of the Holy Spirit. And we receive not earth stained with blood from sacrifices, which cannot take sin away, but flesh and blood offered up in thanksgiving, which win for us all life, and joy, and forgiveness.

So we come to Jesus in the Eucharist with all our needs, our suffering and fears, and we ask him to heal us of our afflictions and make us whole. But there remains a joy beyond the horizon of our present sorrows, the joy of being brought in from the cold world of sin, into the long summer of God's mercies.

And so we come to our Eucharistic Lord, seeking some share in the thanksgiving he is always offering to the Father in heaven, that we too may come to live with him as insiders, in the very heart of the divine life.



2 Kgs 5:14-17
2 Tim 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19


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