Father Donald Senior, CP

Living in a spirit of gratitude is at the heart of Christian life

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Oct. 9: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kgs 5:14-17; 2 Tm; Lk 17:11-19

A friend of mine complained recently about giving a very nice gift to a newly married couple but who, more than a year later, had not sent a thank-you note. Some people, she lamented, accept gifts as if they earned them.

Failing to receive thanks for a gift is something that bothers us all, I think. That is the theme lifted up this Sunday in the Alleluia antiphon sung before the Gospel: “In all circumstances, give thanks.” It is also an underlying motif in both of the vivid biblical accounts that make up this Sunday’s readings.

The story of Naaman the Syrian reminds me why I love the Bible — who could beat a story like this, so full of human foibles. The passage we have today falls in the middle of the overall story.

Previously, you may recall, Naaman, the great Syrian army commander, was afflicted with leprosy and heard from a captive Jewish servant girl that there was a prophet in Israel — Elisha — who could cure him. So gathering his retinue and a lot of money and treasure to pay for his cure, Naaman set out for Israel.

Naaman assumed that, with his exalted status and abundant cash, he had earned a cure. But instead of meeting with him directly, Elisha sends him a note and, even worse, tells him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman is insulted, thinking that a cure for a man like himself who deserved it should be more elaborate and grand. Besides, he says, there are good rivers in Syria and why not bathe there?

He is about to return home in a snit when his servants persuade him to at least give the procedure a try. He does and he is cured.

The passage for today picks up the story from there. Naaman is overjoyed and wants to express his thanks with a lavish gift. But Elisha refuses any gift, knowing the power to heal comes from God. Naaman, starting to get the message, asks if, instead, he can bring back two mule loads of soil so he can properly worship the God of Israel standing on the soil of his sacred land. From now on, he promises to offer sacrifices to no other God, “except to the Lord.”

By the way, this story ends on a bizarre but very human note. When Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, sees that the prophet turned down Naaman’s offer of money, the wily servant follows Naaman and tells him that Elisha has changed his mind and is willing to take some money as a sign of gratitude.

Naaman, still thankful for being healed, gives the servant a generous sum for the prophet. Of course, Gehazi pockets the money but the prophet Elisha is no fool and Gehazi is severely punished for his cheating — now he gets leprosy.

This enticing tale from the book of Kings sets the stage for the passage from Luke’s Gospel. Luke drives home Jesus’ message by noting that although Jesus cured 10 lepers, only one — and a Samaritan at that — “glorifies God” and returns to thank Jesus. The Samaritan, a member of a group often despised by the majority of Jews in Jesus’ day, recognizes the gift of life that God has given him, while the others, as privileged as they seem to be, forget.

Living in a spirit of gratitude is at the heart of the Christian life. We have so much to thank God for: our very lives; the love of our family and friends that sustains us; the opportunity to work and create; our faith that gives us ultimate meaning and a reason for hope even in the midst of suffering or loss. This, of course, is one of the prime reasons we come together on this Sunday and together listen to God’s Word and be nourished by the living presence of Christ. Eucharist — “giving thanks” — is the central sacrament of our Catholic faith and the spirit that should guide our everyday lives.


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