SEPARATED, SAVED & SENT 28th Sunday (Year C) | October 9, 2016 (English)
SEPARATED, SAVED, & SENT
Today, the readings speak about something totally unexpected, something unpredictable, and utterly surprising from all points of view. Naaman, a foreigner, a non-Jew, and a non-believer, is healed of his dermatological problems of depressing and alienating proportions (1st Reading). What makes it surprising is that a foreigner is deigned worthy of being healed by God. What makes the story unexpected is that he, a man of means and a man of influence "went down and plunged himself into the Jordan seven times," - a possible allusion both to embracing humility, and doing as he is instructed by Elisha, that is, physically going down the waters of the Jordan. What makes it unpredictable is the total and complete turn-around of somebody who was not expected to believe and embrace the faith of Elisha and all those the prophet stood for.
Naaman's story is a story of reversals par excellence.
The Gospel story, too, is one whose element of surprise is more than just a cute literary device designed to impress, drive home a moral lesson, and function like one of the stories that make up the highly popular "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series. The parallelism between the story of the named Syrian (Naaman), and that of the unknown and unnamed Samaritan, is too striking to be missed and glossed over. Both men, though unworthy, were healed of their maladies. Both returned to give thanks. And both stand for important truths that ought to be of much help to us - here and now, as they were - there, and then.
What truths do we see jutting out of the pages of today's readings? What truths can we see as we take a backward glance to what transpired then, so that we could gain insight as to how we ought to value, and thus, learn precious lessons from what transpires in the here and now? What parallelisms appear to us now between the two lepers' stories and our ongoing stories now in this place, in this time?
We can focus on the more obvious elements, to start with. It is no secret to many of us that anyone who had any type of sores on the skin was not just labeled a leper, but, more so, considered unclean. Unclean people were supposed to be shunned and kept at more than just an arm's length away. They were to be actively avoided. They were pariahs, outcasts, and deemed non-entities, walking zombies - in effect, considered dead, though still physically living. They were to be treated as separate, as on the other side of the great, though imaginary divide between healthy people and the scum of society, which they effectively, were.
But we really are all lepers and outcasts on account of the greatest separation we are capable of heaping upon ourselves - SIN. Sin isolates us. Sin separates us from God, the All Holy One. And sin is something that we all have, whether we are fair or dark skinned; whether we are rich or poor, dull or intelligent. Naaman, though rich, was really shunned, avoided, and kept at a comfortable distance by the rest of humanity. Riches were no guarantee he was to be treated differently and mercifully. This is the first word in our three-word summary of today's liturgy - SEPARATED. Our ongoing experience of sin brings into relief the egregious truth that sin separates, that sin isolates, and that sin alienates. When we sin, we lose our lifeline. We lose our status. We lose self-respect. And we lose the respect of others.
But the surprising thing that the readings today tell us is that, though separated on account of sin; though isolated by our sinfulness, and though alienated from God, others, self, and nature, God's love and His gift of salvation know no boundaries. Of all people who ought to have been healed, it was the foreigner Naaman who got healed. God's saving mercy knows no bounds, and is given to Him whom He wills, to anyone who is honest enough to acknowledge the deep and big chasm that divides and separates him and the God of mercy.
This brings us to the second important truth - the second word in our three-word summary - SAVED. More than just physical healing took place for both Naaman and the unnamed Samaritan. Healing constituted being re-instituted as a subject of rights, a person worthy of attention, an individual that ought no more to be considered separated and isolated. Healing restored both persons' dignity. They were both rehabilitated before the society which before, they could have no dealings with whatsoever as lepers. Healing constituted earthly salvation for them. Once healed, they were free in senses more than just one. They were saved from a lifetime of insecurity and utter alienation from others. They were saved from a status of rejection to a status of acceptance. This is what St. Paul so gratefully speaks about in his hymn-like passage in his letter to Timothy: "Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory" (2nd Reading). This same reality of being saved by God is the same joy that emanates from our response to the first reading: "The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power" (Responsorial Psalm).
But there is more ... Sinners like all of us are, though separated once, were brought closer to God and to each other by the gift of salvation. But the story does not end there. Having been favored with a clean slate by the gift of salvation, having been made recipients of a great gift from above, the two lepers found it in themselves to go back and declare undying gratitude. Naaman swore to worship the only true God, as symbolized by his carting home soil from Israelite land. The unnamed Samaritan, only one out of ten, came back to give thanks to the Lord. And this is where the third word, SENT, enters in.
Like grateful former lepers-made-clean; like former pariahs and outcasts, but rehabilitated by the gift of salvation in Christ, we come back and gather together to give thanks - to do Eucharist. This is what the Holy Mass essentially is. We come back to the house of the Father to give thanks. But we gather and unite ourselves to God and to each other only to be SENT once again. We gather, not in order to glory selfishly and revel solipsistically in our good fortune. We gather only to be sent forth. At the end of the Mass, we are told: ITE, MISSA EST. Go ... you are sent ...
The Gospel passage could not be clearer on this aspect, at least. The Samaritan who was healed, the only one out of the total ten who received a great favor, came back to give thanks. But he came back not in order to stay. He came back only to be told as, indeed, all of us who attend Mass, are told: "Stand up and go ... your faith has saved you."
This, unfortunately, is the ultimate litmus test of total healing. He who is restored to total healing is sent forth to mission. He who has been restored to God's good graces cannot remain unaffected, uncommitted, and disengaged. "Stand up and go ... your faith has saved you. ITE, MISSA EST.
For once we were separated from God, but now are restored and saved in Christ. In His name, and on account of Him, we cannot but see ourselves as a people sent to give to others the same good news we ourselves have received and benefited from.
What, you might ask, does being saved and sent lead us to? What fruits can we reasonably expect from doing a Naaaman and acting magnanimously like that Samaritan who went back to give thanks? St. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, could not be clearer: "If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we persevere, we shall also reign with him" (2nd Reading).