My Dear Friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit on this incredible weekend. What an incredible joy to be with you this weekend. Hasn't it just been a beautiful this past week to watch the trees begin to turn colors and watch the fields begin to be cleared? And I have to admit that I was at least a little afraid when it got so cold last week that we were headed for an early winter and, instead, praise God! We got a few days of 80 degree weather. What a great joy!
Part of what I love about this assignment is that, for three of the seven days of the week, my breakfasts are covered. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, I get invited out with a group of parishioners for breakfast. It's great for two reasons: First because it lets me sit and get to know the daily mass folks and hear some of what's happening in their lives. Second, because I usually get a free breakfast because one of them picks up my tab. I always appreciate the people who buy the food for me but I have to admit that sometimes I forget to say thank you. I think it's just one of those times when a kindness becomes so automatic that we can forget that important spirit of thankfulness.
In both the first reading and gospel, something unusual happens, something miraculous. In b oth cases, men were suffering from a then unknown skin and upper respiratory disease that was called leprosy that we would probably call Hanson's Disease. It had a somewhat similar social stigma (Alliteration!) as AIDS or other incurable illnesses have today. Although, since the transmission process was a mystery, there was even more of a feeling of avoidance on the part of people. So, in both the instance of Elisha the prophet and Jesus, they are putting their ministry in jeopardy by approaching these lepers.
In the case of Elisha, he orders the man to be washed seven times in the Jordan River, This act, in which Christians see the foreshadowing of baptism, purifies the Gentile Naaman of his awful disease. Naaman is so excited to be free from leprosy that he becomes Jewish. He sees in his miraculous cure, a mark of the one true God and so becomes a Jew to give thanks to God for the gift that he was given.
Jesus, on the other hand, doesn't just encounter one leper, but an entire colony of them. Part of this may have been due to the fact that, if you had leprosy, you were expected to live outside the confines of the city. So, rather than fed for themselves, the lepers probably formed a sort of shanty town and took care of themselves there. That's what the scripture writers are probably referring to when they said that Jesus was entering a village. It was, in a sense, a place where people went to die so you wouldn't separate out people of different races or religions. That's why it's amazing that, when Jesus sent these ten lepers on their pilgrimage by which they are cleansed, only one returned. It's not that the others weren't giving thanks to God. Each of them would have headed of to their respected temples, the Samaritans to Mount Gerizim and the Jews to Jerusalem, where they would have given thanks to God and been cleared to lead a normal life. Only one goes back to thank the person that did it for him instead of first trying to be able to get cleared to lead a "normal life".
I think that, in our modern world, it's easy to forget to give thanks to God for the blessings he puts into our lives. We live in a world where cynical, sarcastic comments are considered to be the pinnacle of humor and where people who walk around with a sense of awe are considered simpletons. Just think of Ned Flanders from the Simpsons. He gives thanks to God for things and is considered a moron for doing so. We just think we are entitled to good things and that the truly miraculous things in life deals with God doing amazing things for us like curing leprosy, winning the lottery, or being given a 42 foot long Winnebago with Iowa State logos and two bathrooms...not that I expect anyone to get one for me. Yet, if that's our attitude, we miss so much that God gives to us. We miss the times when people give us a drink of water or break off part of their sandwich for us. We miss the simple joy of seeing a healthy, active child being screaming his way out of church. We miss the mundane joy of watching leaves turn colors because it happens every year. What's the use in getting excited about them? All of this was put here by God for us to let us know how much he loves us. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give Him thanks and praise.