13 Oct 2019
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Allergies have been especially bad this year. For myself, I’ve been dealing with that for about 24 weeks now. And it’s been kind of miserable; it’s like I became a captive to these allergies. But then the doctor suggested I do a few things, and it’s incredibly better. I still have a cough in the mornings, and I have to keep up my regime of “nasal care,” but it’s working.
And that’s maybe similar to what we see in the Scriptures today. We have two cases of leprosy; one is Naaman and the other is an unnamed Samaritan. And they’re more or less “captive” to their condition. It sounds like Naaman was a pretty successful military leader—in spite of his leprosy. However, it sounds like the unnamed Samaritan was pretty much captive to his leprosy.
Now, both of them desired to be free of their illness, so they went in search of healing. Naaman was sent to the “man of God,” the Prophet Elisha. And the other leper called out to Jesus when he saw him pass by. And, in doing that, both of those men received some very clear instructions. It was like getting a prescription from the doctor. Naaman was told to “go and wash seven times in the Jordan” river [2 Kgs 5:10], and the other leper was directed to “go show yourself to the priests” [Lk 17:14].
So, the two men did “what the doctor ordered,” and they were healed. And not only that: they were freed. They were no longer captive to the disease of leprosy that had them in its grips. They were free to enter society again—because lepers had to stay away as outcasts. They were free to worship again—because they were then no longer ritually unclean. They were free to love and be loved in return. They’d been healed and set free. They could be whom God intended them to be when he made them “in the beginning.”
In short, we have a little snapshot of how redemption and salvation work. In the beginning, God created everything and called it “good.” But then Evil came in made a mess of things; and we became captive to sin and death, and everything else that holds us down. And so God sent the Law and the Prophets and, finally, his Son Jesus to provide the remedy for sickness; to “save” us. And those who seek this saving love of God—and follow his “prescription”—are freed; they’re redeemed. And, even if sin and death (and allergies) are still around, we’re nonetheless not “captive” to them anymore.
This is what defines us as “people of God,” as “people of faith.” It’s our central message as the Church: that there is salvation, there is hope...through God and his ways.
Some people look at the Church and think, “Oh, that’s so oppressive. All those rules and laws; all that judgment. Where’s all the love they preach about?!” But what they may not realize is how oppressed they themselves are—living without God, without the Law and the Prophets, without the commandments and prescriptions of God and his Church to raise them up.
Now, that’s not to say the Church doesn’t get off track every now and again; it certainly does—after all, we’re not God. We’re affected by evil, by the ways of sin and death. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the Church is the community of the redeemed, the community of those who’ve been touched by the saving love of God. Our own woundedness and brokenness doesn’t invalidate the Gospel message, the message of salvation and how salvation works. In fact, our own brokenness—and how we’ve each been touched by God’s saving love—is what makes the Gospel message legitimate.
We follow God’s commandments not because we’re oppressed, or because we’re miserable slaves. We follow God’s commandments because we know they work. We hang on to them, we use them, and we’re free. We follow the teachings of the Apostles, too. And we do it because we’ve experienced the truth, the goodness, and the freedom that comes from living according to those teachings and Christ’s.
Maybe some of us have been touched by the voice of Evil that whispers: “You’re not good enough. You have nothing to contribute. You are worthless.” And you let that sit inside you for years, decades; you become a “leper.” But then, one day, you hear the story of how someone just like you encountered acceptance for the first time. And it was acceptance offered by someone who was a firm believer in God’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And, at that moment, you knew firsthand what salvation felt like. You were freed from being captive to others’ lies about yourself that, long ago, you’d accepted as true.
And then, you, now a redeemed person, are excited to get on with living a new life in freedom. And it feels great, except...you have a nagging disdain in your heart for those who hurt you in the past. And you can’t let it go. You just can’t let it go. And so, you find yourself still captive to sin and death. Only, now it’s your own unforgiveness that keeps you captive. You’re captive to yourself. And—importantly—you don’t want to be.
So you call out to Jesus for help, and he brings to mind immediately that prayer he put inside us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And then you remember his commandment: “Love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you” [Mt 5:44]. And you let the law of God, and the teachings of Christ and his Apostles, be your ticket to freedom.
Laws aren’t meant to make us slaves. They’re not there to oppress us. They’re meant to free us. They’re like on ramps to the highway of salvation. There’s no other way to get on the highway. And so, we pray for those who are captive to the lie that God’s laws are oppressive and stifling. We pray for those who are captive to...whatever, but who don’t realize it.
And that realization is key. A few weeks ago we talked about sin, and how increased awareness of sin is an essential part of the “New Evangelization.” Jesus “came to call sinners,” so if people are unaware of their sins, they don’t really have any use for Jesus—at least, not for what Jesus came to do.
This week, though, the focus isn’t so much the sins that we do. Instead, it’s how we are each touched by sin (and death and evil)—but not by our doing. Naaman and the other leper hadn’t done anything wrong. They’d simply been “captured” by this disease, leprosy. And—importantly—they knew. Of course, that’s a disease which is pretty easy to see. But what about the evil, and sin, and death that’s touched us that is not so easy to see; “bad things that happen to good people,” and that we’re not entirely aware of?
We already mentioned those lies that others tell us about ourselves that we believe. Those can be very insidious. What about those of us who feel alone or cast out? Those who feel abandoned? It’s not uncommon among youth; it’s not uncommon among the elderly and the homebound. What about those of us who are touched by envy—a grasping envy which cannot share in others’ happiness and blessings? What about those of us who are slaves to what others think? That’s a pretty common “ailment” among people.
The realization of our own woundedness is key, because that’s what we lay before the Lord and ask him to make better. Jesus can’t “save” us if we don’t know what’s wrong, or if we don’t bring it to him. It’s like going to the doctor. The doctor can’t help you if you don’t tell him or her what’s wrong. The doctor can’t do anything if you yourself don’t know that something’s wrong. So, realizing our own woundedness, our own brokenness is an essential part of the “New Evanglization;” it’s an essential part of being touched by the healing, saving love of God.
In another couple of months (already!) we’ll be celebrating Christmas. And it’s a joyful thing we celebrate, most of all because: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone” [Isaiah 9:1-2]. We celebrate the coming of the light into our own personal darkness, the coming of the One who has the keys to set us free. But it’s a joyful thing only if we realize that we’re captive to a certain “gloom”, and that what he has is exactly what we need. Among other things, that’s what it makes a deeply joyful holiday.
“Sleigh bells rings, are you listenin’?” Jesus is coming to town, but it isn’t sleigh bells that are ringing, it’s the keys of heaven that are ringing. He’s the one who has them, Jesus, who has been “sent to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners” [Isaiah 61:1].
The story of salvation is ours. Each of us is a part of its message of joy and hope. Each of us has been created good in the eyes of God. Each of us has been touched by Evil in some way, and we can’t seem to shake sin and death. And each of us has heard the “good news” of the saving love of God in Christ. We’ve heard and, hopefully, we’ve experienced it. The question is: Do we know it? Do we believe it?
There’s so much talk today about declining numbers of people going to Mass, the priest shortage, and the increase of anxiety and despair in the world. It’s no coincidence that this is all happening as the world increasingly pushes God to the side—like never before in human history.
Our culture pushes the truth of our own woundedness, and the truth of God’s redeeming love for us, aside. (And the enemy isn’t the culture, the enemy is the Enemy who distorts the culture). And when that happens—when we’re pulled apart from God—what’s left then, but to despair, to worry about the shortness of life (which apparently ends when you die—not). What’s left but to stop worshipping God, to stop turning to God whose very existence is apparently nothing but a fairytale (not). What’s left then but for men to stop giving themselves to Christ in the priesthood? After all, what’s the point if you’ve never known the gracious and saving love of Jesus? Why commit yourself to him? Why spend your life sharing him with others?
And so, this is important. The message of salvation is important; this message of hope and joy. Each of us has been created good in the eyes of God. Each of us has been touched by Evil in some way, and we can’t seem to shake sin and death. And each of us has heard the “good news” of the saving love of God in Christ. We’ve heard and, hopefully, we’ve experienced it. The question is: Do we know it? Do we believe it?
As members of a redeemed people, do we know we have been redeemed, that salvation is ours? Not just once on the Cross, but every day?
God help us to hear the words of Saint Paul today: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.” If we want to be raised up, if we want to be healed and made whole—not only at the end of time, but even now, today, and every day—we want to follow the doctor’s orders. We want to remember Jesus Christ and all he said, did, and taught. We want to remember him and his Apostolic Church, with whom he shares those all-important keys of heaven.
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead,” Saint Paul says. Salvation is ours in Christ Jesus, today and every day. May God heal any doubts we have about that, and bring us joy, thankfulness, and abundant life.