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God's Word on Sunday: God’s mercy is free for the asking

  • October 9, 2022

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 9 (2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19)

The prophet Elisha did not do a background check on Naaman the Syrian and neither did God. Naaman was a foreigner and an enemy, for he was the commander of the Syrian army. Neither God nor the prophet seemed to care. He suffered from leprosy, and an Israelite slave girl in his household urged him to go to Elisha. He was incensed when Elisha ordered him to bathe seven times in the Jordan. Naaman angrily declared that there were many rivers in his homeland — he needn’t have made the long journey. But urged by his servant, he did as the prophet ordered and was healed. He ecstatically offered a gift to the prophet, but it was promptly refused.

God’s mercy and grace are not for sale, and no one should ever be prevented from approaching God for healing and blessing. It was God’s kindness that brought Naaman to his new relationship with God. The baskets of earth that he took back to his own land were an expression of the ancient identification of a deity with territory — Naaman would have a bit of Israel on which to offer thanks and sacrifices to God.

Kindness and mercy are very effective instruments for both healing and drawing others close to God. This is in line with the insight of Pope Francis, for he declared that the Church should act as a field hospital, meeting people wherever they are.

Elisha did not view Naaman as an enemy but as a potential friend. Since Naaman approached him, Elisha just assumed that God had sent him. Encounters are seldom coincidental — they call forth a response from us. In chapter four of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus referred to this incident as an illustration of the universality of God’s love and mercy. God pays no attention to the labels that humans attach to people and groups but sees only the divine image that is impressed on every soul.

“The word of God is not chained” — these words leap off the page and beg to be taken to heart. Despite the many attempts to silence the good news of Jesus Christ, it will not be muted or chained for long, for the word of God is nothing less than God’s will.

Paul describes his incredible suffering and hardships but not with any bitterness or self-pity. He poured himself out for the sake of others so that all might come to faith in Jesus. He was absolutely certain that by remaining faithful to Jesus Christ, he and his followers would live and reign with Him. This is something to remember in very difficult and perilous times. But what if we are not faithful? Jesus remains faithful nonetheless, for we are part of Him, and He cannot deny Himself.

The 10 lepers were desperate — this ravaging disease not only consumed bodies, but also damaged the heart and soul. They were denied normal human community and were objects of fear. The lepers did not dare approach Jesus; they stood at a distance and cried out for mercy. Mercy was immediate, for Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests of the temple. On the way, they were healed and made clean. But only one of them turned back to thank Jesus, and he did so in a loud and heartfelt manner. His life was restored.

Jesus was puzzled why the other nine did not offer thanks and praise to God. We are puzzled too, for being healed of a terrible disease is no small thing. And the one who returned was a Samaritan — an outsider, and one suspect on ethnic and religious grounds. But he was the one wild with joy and he was filled with gratitude and praise. Divine love and mercy, given freely, ignited a fire in his heart.

Often those who stand at the periphery have a clearer recognition of God’s mercy and compassion at work. The grateful leper’s recognition of what God had done for him was an expression of faith — openness and trust. Our world is filled with the barriers, boundaries and labels that humans have fashioned to divide and isolate. The Spirit of God calls us to reach across these boundaries. God is not stingy or selective with grace and mercy, and we should not be either.