Real Changes or Chameleon Changes?

“At some point you realize that most of your daily battles are really battles within yourself, and it’s the desire to win that ever leads you away from discovering who you really are.

“It’s in winning that we really lose, losing the chance to know ourselves. It’s in losing that we win the opportunity to know who we really are, without illusions before God.

“Should we not seek to change ourselves? No. Seek not so much that you might change who you are. Seek that you might be changed from your pretenses into who you really are.

“We change not because we seek to attain something greater, but because we are led by something greater into something greater.”

Brother Nicholas Reynolds

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Lepers & Gratitude & Faith

Homily, Oct 12-13, 2013: Cycle C, 28th Sun of Ord Time (Lepers, Gratitude & Faith)

In our First Reading today from the OT, Second Kings, we hear the story of the Aramean General, Naaman, a leper.

(This is a fascinating story & to give perspective, I would like to start several verses ahead of our actual reading.)

The King of the Arameans sent Naaman to the King of Israel because he had learned from a captive that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure him of his leprosy.

Accordingly, Naaman ended up outside the home of Elisha (il-leesha) the prophet who did not even go out to talk to him; he merely sent him a message by an associate to go wash in the Jordan seven times.

Naaman felt like we would today if our doctor sent his nurse out to the waiting room to tell us to go to the beach and bathe.

He took that as a rebuff & it made him angry.  But, at the urging of his men, he did as Elisha told him & his leprosy was cured.

That brings us to the actual beginning of our First Reading which is the conclusion of this story and where we hear …after he was healed, Naaman returned to Elisha to give his thanks, to show his gratitude by offering gifts, and to announce his conversion to the God of Israel.

As we look at this story we see a progression, we see how the captive servant who told him about a prophet in Israel who could heal him, had initially tweaked or awakened Naaman’s faith.

Then we see that Elisha built on that initial level and increased it by asking him to do the same thing over & over, bathe in the Jordan, seven times. You know after the first few times he was still a little non-plussed.

Most likely, though, by the time he reached the seventh trip going into the river and bathing, his hard heart was beginning to crack open to the possibility, and through that small crack God was able to pour his cure.

Our Gospel today is from Luke and it tells us another story about leprosy, this is about 10 lepers who called out to Jesus as He was about to enter a village in Galilee on His journey to Jerusalem.

They said, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” When He saw them He said, “Go show yourselves to the priests”.  That was it. Not a lot of conversation… It reminds us of the first story.

Why send them to the priests? The priests in those days did more than offer sacrifices for the people; they were also the Public Health Officers.

Leprosy in Biblical times was a terrible thing.  While it described what is known today as “Hansen’s Disease,” the word probably included other skin diseases, as well.  

Whatever it was, once a person showed skin problems resembling leprosy, it was considered leprosy until proven otherwise, and they were banned from society as a health measure.

That’s why Jesus encountered them outside of the village; they had to live isolated lives away from their families, friends, and all other people except fellow lepers.

Our Gospel goes on to tell us that they were cleansed as they were going to show themselves to the priests.

In other words, they had to act in faith on Jesus’ words. Imagine walking into town to the shouts of the bystanders of “Unclean, unclean” & yet they continued their journey to the priests. That took amazing faith & courage.

Of course, only one healed leper returned to Jesus to thank Him. Jesus even commented on that fact by asking the rhetorical question, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?”

This is just me, but I would think the other nine were home rejoicing with their families after having been isolated from them for a long time. Again, this is just me, but we do know that Jesus fully expected them to return and give thanks. 

So, bear that in mind the next time we are celebrating something great happening in our lives.  Be sure not to forget to give thanks to the Lord – He expects it. He does not need it. He expects it because it shows we acknowledge His love for us.

Now there are similarities between the two stories…

In each story, neither Elisha nor Jesus made any gesture of healing, that is, no touching, no sprinkling, no outward sign that they were healing the person themselves. They merely TOLD them they WOULD be healed IF they would do a certain thing.

In each story, the healing was not immediate. The person had to act in faith by performing some simple task over a period of time.

As I first read these scriptures, it reminded me of the illnesses we all suffer from time to time, especially serious illnesses.

We become symptomatic and go to our doctor and he prescribes (tells us) some treatment that has to go on for a long time, with medications, operations, & procedures.  The first thing that strikes us in the face of the doctor’s prognosis is the thought, “this is not going to be quick”. An emptiness falls over us.

But, in the process of acting in faith on the doctor’s word the odds are, we usually recover from the illness and find that our faith has grown as a result – after the fact.  Difficult times in the future don’t seem quite so difficult.

I’m not some TV preacher blaming our lack of wellness on our lack of faith.  You already know I’m not a TV preacher don’t you – I don’t have enough hair.  But, I digress…

Yet, we can identify with Naaman & the 10 lepers. Getting well is not quick and we have to trust someone who knows more about it than we do, and then act on it, & try to believe that things will ultimately turn out better.

The medical profession has long noticed that people with a positive, believing outlook seem to get well in greater numbers & sooner.  Study after study has borne this out.

Armed with that experiential knowledge we should find yet again another good reason to develop and maintain a close relationship with our Creator, and that too, takes time.

As we mature in that relationship we come to see & believe that no matter how bad it looks, the bottom line is, He loves us, and His every response to us is one of love.