28th Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: Am I being too judgemental and too proud? God sees what is in our hearts rather than what we profess on our lips. Let us turn to God for a conversion of the heart.
We often think that we are better than the other person. In our faith life, we often judge harshly those who do not believe in God; even those who believe but does not practise their faith as fervently as we do. We think that we are better because we attend church more often; pray more often; volunteer more often; and whatever else that we do well more often. If I am one of those who thinks this way, this week’s Scripture passage often me some food-for-thoughts.
Naaman the Syrian was suffering from leprosy. He was a great army general who served the mighty Kingdom of Syria. Hence, it was a great act of humility for Naaman to seek out Elisha, a prophet from the weak nation of Israel, for a cure to his leprosy. As if this experience was not humbling enough, Elisha sent Naaman to dunk himself wet in the Jordan River, not just once but seven times. After initially feeling offended, Naaman eventually followed Elisha’s instructions. Upon completing the seven immersions, Naaman was cure of his condition. For those of us who think that we are better than the other person, Naaman’s humility in approaching a prophet from a tiny nation gives us a great example. For those of us who judge the non-believers and non-Christians harshly, Naaman’s story carries a second lesson for us: God’s deliverance is not confined to the believers or the faithfuls. Before his encounter, Naaman was a non-believer. Contrary to the prevalent Jewish belief that only Jews may be saved, this story tells of the Lord’s mercy and grace towards a foreigner and a non-believer. As Christians, haven’t we made the same mistake sometimes, thinking that we are the chosen ones, the only ones that are worthy of God’s saving grace?
God sees what is in our hearts and that Naaman has a good heart. After he was cured, Naaman asked for two mule-load of Israel soil, so that upon his return to Syria, he may continue to worship God standing on the soil of Israel. Naaman the foreigner showed immense gratitude and reverence to God. Through this story, we learn that it is not by one’s professed faith that a person receives the grace of God, but rather it is by the faith in our heart that we receive the grace of God. It is through the grace of God that Naaman was not just physically cured, but spiritually healed, as evident from his gratitude and reverence to God after the experience.
The Gospel carried a parallel story to the First Reading. It tells of the story of how Jesus cured ten lepers. Of the ten, only the Samaritan (a foreigner) showed gratitude. The other nine, presumably Jews, accepted God’s grace as their entitlement and simply went away without evening thanking Jesus. Thus, while ten lepers were physically cured, only the Samaritan was spiritually healed. This was affirmed by Jesus when he said to the Samaritan, “your faith has made you well” (verse 19). By the phrase “making you well”, Jesus was not just referring to the cure of the external ailment, but a healing of the inner soul. Just like Naaman, this Samaritan leper was not only cured of his physical ailment, but was also healed spiritually.
Therein lies the danger for those of us who thinks too highly of ourselves by virtue of our professed faith. Let us ask ourselves, is my pride blocking out the grace of God that flowed so freely to Naaman and the Samaritan leper? If so, let us cloth ourselves in humility, turn to the God and seek a conversion of our hearts. Paul, a supreme intellect and a highly learned man, once made the same mistake. In his younger days, Paul was a zealous Jewish persecutor of the early Christians. Later, Paul experienced a conversion experience, and made it his life’s mission to convert foreigners and non-believers. For his trouble, Paul was eventually imprisoned and martyred. In the Second Reading, written by Paul from his prison cell, Paul said that although he was imprisoned, the words of God that he carried can never be chained down. “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.” (verse 12-13) To us who seek a conversion experience like Paul, these are very encouraging words indeed.