C Cycle – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
If you just read the scriptures, you will discover God requires more from us than obedience to His laws and commands. His chastising of the law abiding Pharisees should have taught us that lesson. Paul taught the Roman’s that lesson when he told them, “the law cannot change us only Christ, who freed us from the law can change us” (Rom.8:3).
Yet the law is held over our heads like a hammer, waiting to strike us for every wrong we commit. The history of our relationship with God shows us how time and time again God’s desire is not to punish us but to change us by His presence in our lives and by His touching our minds and hearts each time we invite Him into our lives.
All you need to do is read the story of the Exodus where the chosen people of God continued to receive blessings from God even as they continued to displease Him. He constantly reminded them how He was the source of all their blessings and their failure to faithfully worship Him was the cause of all their hardships. Not because He abandoned them but because they abandoned Him and refused to take that step of trusting His promises.
It seems we have learned nothing over the past two thousand years we continue to distrust God will forgive and bless us. Instead of embracing Him we are more comfortable adhering to the law to attain a sense of “righteousness.”
This is the heart of the message in today’s gospel. We think our spiritual life is all about following the rules and by doing so we will please God. But we are called to a life of acknowledging Him as Lord and allowing him to change us as he does those in the readings today. The message we need to learn is more is required than to give thanks to God for His transforming power.
We are reminded by the two stories to abandon our efforts to measure our goodness by the simply adhering to what we are comfortable with and that is how well we follow the law. The law is finite, it gives us structure and it points out what is right and what is wrong. However, we are called to follow Christ and the law written on our hearts by the Spirit and that brings into a different relationship with God. It brings about listening and responding instead of blind obedience to a set of rules.
God did not mince His words as He warns us not to believe we receive good things because we have done something to earn them. In His own words He said tells us not to say, “it is by my merits that the Lord has brought me these (blessings)” (Deut. 9:4).
God’s goodness is at the heart of the story of Naaman and the ten lepers. Naaman was afflicted with leprosy and sought healing from the gods he worshiped as a Syrian. Naaman was a Syrian, an enemy of the Jews and more than that he is a commander in the army of Syria. However, when those gods were silent, he seeks the one he heard about, the man of God, Elisha. He puts aside all his trust in his gods and all his hatred for the Jews to seek the help from a God he does not know and among a people he despises. He is driven not by belief but by desperation.
There is a lesson in his actions for us. We are uncomfortable with abandoning all we have been doing in our faith journey to stand before God with nothing. All he while knowing we still have doubts about our standing with God because the law does nothing but condemn us. Like Naaman we have a desire to feel His touch cleans us of our sin and to restore us. The story of Naaman teaches us that hunger for His touch is exactly where God wants us to be in our journey – totally dependent on Him and believing He has the will to change us. We like Naaman and the lepers need to be desperate enough to put aside all preconceived notions of God and trust He will touch us and fill us with His loving presence.
The ten lepers continue this theme of putting aside all we believe is necessary for us to be acceptable to God. Did you ever wonder why the nine who were cleansed never returned but they continued to follow the command of Jesus to “go show themselves to the priests?” They did because that was the law. That is what the law required of them to be declared clean. It did not matter that they were healed, only the priest could restore them to the community by declaring them clean (Lv. 13 & 14).
The nine were adhering to the law while the one, the enemy of the Jews, the Samaritan was intent on making sure the rest of his life was acknowledging the mercy, forgiveness and restoration by God. He understood it was not the law that restored him but the action of Jesus Christ.
Desperation drove the lepers Christ, but unlike Naaman it was their adherence to the law that drove them from away from the blessings of a life lived by becoming a disciple. Naaman was willing to spend his life worshipping a God his people rejected and the lepers fell into the trap of depending on the law for the very thing only God can provide.
The issue for us is how do we respond to the gift of our own cleansing from the leprosy of our sin by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This gospel story is not just a story of healing and restoration and it is more than a reminder to give God thanks. It has more to do with the disposition of our hearts as we approach God and less as a reminder to give God thanks in all things.
In these inspired words of today, God is challenging us to take a good look at how we approach our faith. Warning us not to become fixed on the law for our salvation. If that is how we approach our faith, we can easily walk away from the blessings offered us by a relationship with Christ. We will like the nine lepers miss a lifetime of being blessed further by Jesus. We are invited to be like the Samaritan leper and the Syrian Naaman who needed to abandon their preconceived concepts of how to please God only to discover wholeness of heart and mind.
God tells us there is only one choice that brings life and it is not a comfortable place for us because we must wait for Jesus to show us the way to the Father and we must trust the Spirit will continue to guide us to holiness.