9th October 2016
The first reading reminds us how people in the time of the Old Testament lived; there were kings or tribal leaders with nobles under them, they had servants who worked and cared for them, they had their own gods who operated in their territories, miracles and drama were part of their religions and the different small nations were uncertain of each other’s ambitions and motives. The lead up to the first reading is necessary for it to make sense; Naaman was a well-respected leader in a country adjoining Israel, who had leprosy and could find no cure; one of the servants of his wife was from Israel where Elisha was well known as a prophet and man of God; she suggested a visit to him might be helpful. The party set off with plenty of payment and gifts, but Naaman was disappointed when Elisha did nothing dramatic, but merely said go and wash in our river Jordan seven times. He was about to return home disappointed when servants persuaded him to try it all the same. And then we are into today’s reading. Elisha rejects any gift for the miracle and Naaman thinks the god in this land is powerful, so takes some of the land back with him to his own territory.
The second reading is further advice for the leader of a Christian community in the first century of Christianity when persecution was a real likelihood. The central teaching of Paul is reflected in the centrality of the resurrection, though the reference to David is not particularly his, yet he uses it when writing to the Romans. The author is quoting a Christian hymn or poem that refers to dying with Christ, recalling how they thought of Baptism but also alluding to their potential martyrdom; the reference to denying also indicates the threat of persecution. But it ends with comfort because God is faithful whatever, for it is how He is and He cannot deny His Self.
In the gospel we hear the next miracle after last week’s reading from Luke. It is one of those stories found only in Luke’s gospel – the cure of the ten lepers. The Jewish law is recognised by the lepers and by Jesus in that they stand a distance away from contact with others and Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priest (which a leper must do to verify a cure). But the more significant point to the story comes later when they realise that they have been cured and it is only one that returns to thank Jesus and he was a Samaritan, a person treated by Jews as a foreigner. Although they were all cured, it is most noteworthy that it is only the one who acknowledges this and thanks God, who is saved. This puts miracles in their place; a miracle doesn’t save you but your faith does.