God has compassion for all

  • October 5, 2007
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), Oct. 14, 2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

What if someone you hated and regarded as an enemy or undesirable were blessed and healed by God? Would you be pleased or appalled? The two healings in these readings teach us that God’s compassionate mercy is not narrow or limited and is intended for all humanity.  

In the first story, the military commander of Israel’s Syrian enemy has come to seek healing from leprosy at the hands of the prophet Elisha. Think of it: how would we react to a Nazi general or a high-ranking member of the Taliban asking to be healed by our God? At first he is indignant that Elisha asks only something simple. He is to wash himself seven times in the Jordan. But his servant reasons with him, and after performing the ablutions in the river, he is completely healed.

{sidebar id=2}The ancient idea (unconsciously shared by many modern people) is that God belongs to a particular group or people. Acts of mercy, healings, and blessings should be confined within these borders. The unthinkable has just occurred: God’s compassionate mercy has flowed beyond any border or limitation, touching even the “enemies” of Israel.

Luke’s Jesus will even shock his contemporaries by using this story as an example of God’s compassion for all, even gentiles. As Naaman returns to his country, he does so with a new awareness of God and a desire to worship Him. The ancient idea that God is attached to a particular piece of real estate is conveniently overcome by a couple of sacks of dirt. God will be worshipped even in “enemy” territory. But God has no enemies; we are the ones who insist on this label. As the Psalm states, “the Lord has revealed to the nations His saving power,” but it has also been revealed in a new way to Israel and to us.

The letter to Timothy provides the key for unlocking the mystery of God’s healing power in these readings: despite negative human actions, the word of God is not chained. ‛Word’ of course has nothing to do with what is written on the page. In Biblical terms, ‛Word’ refers to the creative energy and will of God manifested in the world.

The endurance mentioned in the letter is not mere resignation but active participation in the life of Christ. God’s word is in no ways limited by our weaknesses or the situations we endure. We become part of Him, thereby sharing not only his own struggles and trials but His glory and power. Perfection is not demanded, but faith is. But even if that falters, Jesus will not abandon us, for He cannot abandon Himself.

The strange story of the 10 lepers challenges our credulity a bit. Not the healing itself, but the “ingratitude” of the nine who did not come back to thank Jesus. Ingratitude is possible, for people often take divine gifts for granted, even explaining them away. But all nine — ungrateful even after being healed of such a terrible disease? And the one who did come back to thank Jesus was a Samaritan: considered an ethnically impure, religiously heterodox outsider. He is the one who is open to God’s healing power enough to be excited, amazed and overwhelmed. In many instances in the Bible, it is the outsider who shows a greater faith than the insider. It is very easy to become matter-of-fact and rather cynical about the gifts of faith, but none of that is in evidence with that fellow. His inner life has been healed and transformed, while the others perhaps experienced only a physical healing.

Often the inner healing can only occur when one is open to big changes and willing to leave the past behind. Healing is a cooperative encounter with God. Once again God has exceeded the limits, showing compassion and mercy to the ‛other’ standing outside the pale of respectability. Placed in today’s context, it does not require much imagination to discover who the lepers, Samaritans and enemies are.

The question is, would God act any differently? It is not a matter of “us” against “them,” or “our God” against “their God.” God does have neither favourites nor enemies, those distinctions are human creations. When we remember this, religion gives life; when we forget, it often becomes deadly.