28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Naaman the Syrian and the Samaritan leper”. This could be the title of a vaudeville act or maybe a punk rock group. In this weeks readings, they are the monikers by which the scriptures identify our two main characters.
In the reading from the second book of Kings (2Kgs 5:14-17), Naaman is healed by the prophet Elisha, apprentice to the great prophet Elijah and now a respected holy man in his own right. Having been healed by the Hebrew God, Naaman commits himself to worship this God – a decision indicated by his request for several mule loads of earth from Israel to be brought into his homeland. (Even for the early Hebrews, the concept of god and a tangible earthly territory were inseperable; every god had his or her “turf”).
The Samaritan leper distinguishes himself from the other nine lepers who were cured- all presumably Jewish – by returning to Jesus and, like Naaman, praising the Jewish God “in a loud voice”.
The connection here is obvious – both stories focus on foriegners who choose to enter into the Covenant relationship with God on their own volition. Neither has been born into the Jewish faith nor raised according to its’ teachings.
The readings remind me of a story my great aunt used to tell about my great uncle. Apparently when certain members of the family who had been born and raised in the United States began to question my soft-spoken uncle’s patriotism because he was not as vociferous as they he would silence them with one simple sentence. “Each of you was born in America. I chose to come here.”
Even after almost thirty years of a ministry devoted to teaching and writing about the Catholic Christian religion I must admit there’s a whopping amoung of things I don’t understand. But of this I am absolutely certain: Any mature religious faith involves a decision of the heart to embrace the relationship with the risen Christ at its’ core and the tenets of the Catholic Christian faith which are essential in experiencing this relationship to the fullest. Christianity cannot now be nor has it ever been effectively forced upon anyone.
If an adult stubbornly insists upon approaching his or her faith with a childish committment and understanding (as opposed to a child-like understanding), he or she is not just wasting time. Such an approach is the beginning of a hypocrisy and self-righteousness that is the royal road to Hell – hell on earth, at least.
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
(To purchase my full-length writings on the Bible, go to www.twentythirdpublications.com)