Homily – Deacon Gregory Maskarinec – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s readings present us with three different responses to God’s blessings…that of the nine lepers, that of Naaman, and that of the Samaritan leper. Which one are you?
Sometimes I can be like the nine lepers in today’s Gospel. A long time ago I was having a conversation with someone and the following question came up: “If you get to heaven and you can say one thing to God, what would you say?” I thought about it, clearly not long enough, and said: “God, why did you give me so much curiosity and ambition, but so little brains and intelligence to go along?” On one hand the response is kind of humorous. On the other hand, the response showed how ungrateful I was for all the blessing that God had showered down upon me.
Similar ingratitude is shown by the nine lepers in today’s Gospel. Leprosy was a skin disorder, resulting in isolation of the lepers from their families and the rest of society. When the lepers cried out from a distance “Jesus have pity on us!”, Jesus doesn’t heal them immediately but commanded them to go see the priests. Why? Well, during the time of Jesus leprosy was considered to be both a sign of and a punishment for their sins. On their way, the lepers were cured. Not only were they no longer physically afflicted by leprosy, but they would now be restored to life with their families and the community…a life that leprosy prevented them from living. Despite this great blessing, nine of the lepers did not return to give thanks to Jesus.
Sometimes I’m like Naaman in today’s first reading. We didn’t read the entire passage this morning, but if we had we would have heard how the leper Naaman was initially skeptical about the prophet Elisha’s command to wash seven times in the Jordan River. It would be like telling someone who comes from the Rocky Mountains with pristine rivers and streams to go and bathe in the Schuylkill to be healed. However, after realizing he had nothing to lose, Naaman washed seven times in the Jordan as instructed and was cured of his leprosy. Naamann returned to give thanks to Elisha and God. He asked Elisha for some dirt so that when he returned to his homeland he would be able to worship the one true God on the same soil where he encountered the God of Israel. Naaman was skeptical and resistant at first, but eventually obedient. And his dry, scaly skin became like the flesh of a little child.
As I said I can sometimes be skeptical like Naaman. On one occasion during confession, the penance my confessor gave me was to do something with my family over the Christmas holiday. I thought about it, again clearly not long enough, and said: “We’ll probably do something as a family anyway. Can you give me some other penance?” You see it’s true…not very intelligent! I thought I know better about what I needed to get my spiritual life back on track than the priest who acts in the person of Jesus in the Sacrament of Confession. Thankfully, my confessor instructed me, “Go! Do it anyway.” I took my family to a live nativity scene and manger display and it turned out to be a wonderful experience. The kids loved it and remember it to this day. I attribute the success in part to the intentionality that came with performing it as penance. I gave thanks to the Lord for His forgiveness and the blessing of family life. Like Naaman, I was skeptical and resistant at first, but obedient. And being obedient brought great blessings and joy to our family.
And sometimes I’m like the Samaritan in today’s Gospel. Despite all my shortcomings and failings, I’ve come to Mass this morning to give thanks to God for all His blessing in my life, just like the Samaritan. In the words of today’s psalmist I’ve come to give thanks to God for His wondrous deeds, His salvation, His justice, His kindness, His faithfulness.
If we’re honest with ourselves we’ll realize that sometimes we’re like the nine lepers, sometimes we’re like Naaman, and sometimes we’re like the Samaritan leper. The goal of the Christian life is to move from being like the nine lepers to being like the Samaritan. How do we do this? By participating in the sacramental life of the Church…Eucharist and Confession. The fact that we’re here this morning to celebrate the Eucharist…the Greek word for “thanksgiving”…shows that we’re not skeptical about giving thanks to God. But maybe we’re skeptical about confession and its benefits. If so, let’s be like Naaman. Skeptical at first, OK. But realizing we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, let’s go and plunge into the cleansing waters of confession!