Spirituality of the Readings
One Sunday, as I did an infant baptism, it was so easy to contrast my own old flesh, which was applying water and oil, and the soft clean skin of the fine baby girl receiving the sacrament.
Which leads to Sunday’s Gospel! What would your reaction be if you went from leprosy to skin fresh as a baby? I suppose, as advertisers do, you would open a website to sell soft-skin!
In the Gospel , Jesus cures ten lepers. He sends them off, saying, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” On the way they discover that they have been cleansed! But only one of them has eyes to see what this healing meant. It was the Samaritan! He comes back to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice, dropping to the ground in front of Jesus, giving thanks.
What about the other nine? They must have simply gone on their way, glad they had won the sweepstakes, and forgetting about the giver. They ignored the soul-cure that Jesus offered.
From the beginning of time God has been seeking a mutual love relationship with every person.It is different in the First Reading . There a leper, Naaman, being healed by Elisha the prophet is told to plunge into the Jordan river seven times. He carries out this strange routine just as instructed. The result?
His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy.
Naaman rushed back to Elisha to give profuse thanks. He declared that there is no other god on earth but Israel’s God! His gratitude overflowed, his life was restored, and he proclaimed that he wanted to give a gift to Elisha in thanksgiving.
Usually, when a person receives this much love, his or her heart will go out to the giver without even thinking, will automatically want to give gifts in gratitude. This is a very healthy, normal reaction.
Strangely, Elisha the prophet refuses the gift. We are not given an explicit reason, but I think he wanted his reward to be love and grace from God.
In response, Naaman, the former leper, makes a dramatic pronouncement.
If you will not accept,
please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth,
for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice
to any other god except to the Lord (First Reading ).
Mules and all, he intends that Israel’s earth will undergird his gratefulness. A Samaritan, he will use that earth for sacrifice to the God of Israel.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola are based on this kind of response. Especially the last exercise, “Contemplation to Obtain God’s love.” When people on retreat realize how deeply they have been loved, their great desire is to give back to the one loving them, to give in return.
Notice, this implies an adult relationship, not a child’s. An infant is filled with need after need after need and tells you all about them. The nine ungrateful lepers were like that. But as people grow to be adults they want to give back in response to what they have received. Yes, even to give back to God.
How would you have reacted? From the beginning of time God has been seeking a mutual love relationship with every person. Do you ever sense this? Do you ever feel gratitude? Do you ever take time out to feel it?
Could you take some time this week?
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University