Naaman the leper went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy and he was clean.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant." But he said, "As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!" He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, "If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.
Sing a new song to the Lord
for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
have brought salvation. (R./)
The Lord has made known his salvation;
has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
for the house of Israel. (R./)
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
ring out your joy. (R./)
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David-that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful-for he cannot deny himself.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."
A friend was once rushed to hospital with a serious pain in his back, the result of an old football injury. He was successfully operated and made a rapid recovery. So relieved was he at being cured, he could hardly say enough in praise of his surgeon, the nurses and the whole hospital. Never again did I hear him complain about our health services. After such a recovery, it is normal to feel grateful for those looking after us. We experience a new joy in living and thank God for being spared from the ailments we saw around us in the hospital. My friend even dropped into a chapel on his way home, to say a prayer of thanks. But the real test of gratitude comes later when the sense of relief has worn off. Do we remember then what people did for us? Do we still say thanks to God, who saved our life?
The old folk used to say "Thank God" after remarking about fine weather, success in business or at school, the safe arrival of a child or a recovery from illness. It's a good custom, built on a tradition of faith and prayer. We might wonder if it comes merely from the lips and not from the heart; whether a people truly grateful to God would not show it more in their way of life. A grateful people would show more signs of sharing what they have. They would hardly be as concerned as we seem to be with private gain, while so many are unemployed and the continuing politics of austerity threatens the survival of elderly people and the chronically ill.
One of the most satisfying feelings is to receive a sincere "Thank you" for a service rendered and appreciated. We may not always be able to cope gracefully with the situation; we might even be embarrassed by the warmth of another's gratitude for something that didn't cost us any great inconvenience; but still there's joy in being thanked for things we've done. The contrary also holds, of course: nothing is quite so hurtful as to be consistently taken for granted, without ever a word of thanks or praise. One out of ten was a fairly poor proportion; but then, truly appreciative people, willing to make sacrifice to show their thanks, are rare enough.
After Mass, we need to bring this thankful spirit into practical social expression in our treatment of others; seeing our life as gift, we should be better able to accept the realities of daily living and share our blessings with others in a generous spirit.
We in the developed world pride ourselves in having the best democratic system in human history, a claim which indeed is debatable. We rightly individual freedom and liberty, the right to choose freely. Yet how often people are swayed by pressure groups and show no scruples about inflicting hardship and curtailment of their liberties on others, in order to gain our own ends. We do not suffer dictators gladly but sometimes we want to dictate to God, make God do things our way, acquiesce to our wishes or leave us masters of our own destiny. There are some who abandon faith and prayer, because God has not granted their requests.
This was the inclination of Naaman the leper, the army commander of the King of Syria, as he bargained with God. Hoping to be cured of his leprosy by prophet Elisha, Naaman arrived laden with gifts of silver and gold, to pay for his cure. The prophet did not even come out to meet him, but only sent a message telling him to wash seven times in the river Jordan. This left Naaman deeply offended and disappointed and he prepared to return to Syria, raging. Why wash in this particular river, when there were so many bigger and cleaner rivers at home? "Here was I thinking Elisha would cure the leprous part," he said, fuming.
Things had not gone as he had planned. It was only when his servants pointed out how simple was the prophet's request that he was persuaded to try it and so was cured. Come to think of it, how often do we behave like Naaman. "Why do I have to go to church, when I can worship God out in the open air on Sundays?" "Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest, when I can tell them directly to God?" "Why does God send me the cross of sickness, when I could do so much good if I were healthy?" We even find such attitudes among our Lord's disciples. "Why do you not show us the Father?" Philip said to him. Some complained, "He says intolerable things and how could anyone accept it?" and they walked with him no more. This reaction of unbelief is often found. But it stands to Naaman's credit that he thought again, was cured and then returned to thank Elisha.
As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." The Eucharist we celebrate here is a reminder never to forget God's greatest gift to us, his own Son, our Saviour. If we concentrate too much on asking for things, there is a danger that we may reduce our Mass to the level of magical thinking, a way of turning God to our way of thinking. How much better if we can open our hearts and our lives to whatever God wants for us, which is sure to be the best that can happen to us in the long run.
We are meant to pray "thy will be done", not insist on having our own way. When we need a favour, we must ask for it with prayer and thanksgiving, because God answers prayer, even if not precisely in the way we expect. Ultimately, says Jesus, God grants only what is for our good. We need to thank God from the heart, like Naaman after his cure, or like the leper who was grateful to Jesus. What a pity the other nine did not say a word of thanks for the blessing they received.