Fr. Charles Irvin

2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

Naaman, the man we heard about in today’s first reading, was a great general from Damascus. He was accustomed to power — and to the pomp and circumstance that surrounds power. He contracted leprosy, and after searching around learned from a Jewish captive girl that a prophet in Israel, Eliseus by name, had the power to cure leprosy.

Naaman gathered up six thousand shekels of gold, ten talents of silver, and loads of other gifts, and set off with this fortune in a grand expedition to Israel in order to find Eliseus, meet him, and be cured.

After Naaman’s arrival in Israel Eliseus didn’t even come out to meet him. Rather Eliseus sent word by a messenger that Naaman should bathe seven times in the river Jordan. Naaman was incensed! Why should he bathe in the dirty little Jordan when back home there were the broad and sparkling rivers of Abana and Pharpar?!

Fortunately Naaman’s servants were honest with him. They pointed out that if Eliseus had demanded that Naaman perform some spectacular and difficult feat he would have jumped at the chance to do so. Why should Naaman object to doing something so ordinary as bathe in a river?

Naaman changed his mind, went ahead with the seven baths, and thereupon was cured. He was so impressed that he wanted to take a little bit of Israel back with him. Because he identified the deity with the place where he was cured, he carted loads of Israel’s dirt back home, built an altar to Yahweh, and was faithful to Him in worship from that point forward. Imagine the shock in Damascus when Naaman, the great and powerful general of the armies returned home with all of his gold, all of his trinkets, all of his splendid retinue, and two mu1e loads of Jewish dirt!

In the Gospel we just read we find Jesus curing ten lepers. It all happened so casually, so quietly… in such a humble and ordinary way. There was no fanfare, no pomp and circumstance, no spectacular and dazzling display of power. Jesus then goes on to quietly point out that only one person returned to give thanks to God emphasizeing that the one giving thanks was a non-Jew, a foreigner.

The question put to us today is: Do we realize the hidden power of God at work in our lives? In the lives of our friends? In the ones we know and who are close us…or in our acquaintances? Some tell us that God is dead, that He doesn’t matter, or doesn’t care about us, because they cannot see spectacular proof of His power.

You and I are often so busy, so concerned with our selves, with our careers, with our projects, and so forth, that we don’t have eyes to see and ears to hear God in our lives. We don’t realize what is happening because we don’t have the proper perspective. That’s why Jesus cried out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear! He who has eyes to see, let him see!”

There is leprosy all around us. It’s found in modern day lepers who are outcasts, who are considered to be unclean, who are looked down upon as unclean, dirty, or good for nothing. There is a spiritual leprosy in our materialistic America, in our militaristic America, and in our selfish America. There is plenty of sin, with its scarring effects, for us to see. But all too often we get fixated on the sickness in our society. All we can see is the evil… and we ignore the people who suffer from its leprosy. 

In such moments we can fail to see the Lord… the Christ… at work among us. We look for some grand revolution, some spectacular cure, some gigantic power play, just as Naaman did. Some around us even claim that God is irrelevant, and that Jesus Christ is a myth.  Some of us even begin to lose track of what it means to be a Christian in a world such as ours.

Yet, for those who are willing to look, there are people among us who are. There are those among us who, like Eliseus, are filled with healing power from the Spirit of God. They bring healing to our hearts and souls. They are working among us in very ordinary, very quiet, very humble, yet very thorough ways to cure men and women of spiritual leprosy.

Thoroughgoing and fundamental changes occur in people only after much effort…only after a great deal of effort that lies hidden and beneath the surface. The flashy cures, the spectacular changes, the dazzling displays, usually don’t have much staying power. They change surface things but they don’t change our inner hearts and souls. We must remember that the revolutions in this world that last are not usually very sudden, flashy, and spectacular. Those that are showy usually only result in substituting one tyranny for another. A radical liberal can be just as much a tyrant as a radical conservative. One need look no further than to the French Revolution to see that truth.

But I digress. What kind of a Christ do we want to touch us in our lives… an ordinary, human Christ, or a Splendid Superstar? If Jesus was anything at all He was an ordinary Jew, with a distinctive face, black hair and dark eyes, and didn’t even remotely resemble the pink faced, blue eyed, androgynous young man that many have painted Him out to be. Nor would He be the magician who would appeal to people with General Naaman’s mentality.

All about us there are people filled with God and in love with Christ, who are performing miracles of healing… who are living the reconciling life of Christ, who are bringing communion wherever there is dis-union, and who are working to make things whole and holy. They are reconciling ethnic groups with each other, repairing damaged friendships, and getting kids back home together again with their parents. All about us there are Christians who are healing the depressed… and who are bringing people out of the leprosy of isolation, loneliness and depressing separation. They are filled with Christ and performing miracles in His name. All about us there are young men and women who, filled with the power of Christ, are overcoming division, segregation, hatred, and violence.

Quietly, without fanfare, without news headlines, there are Christians at work… praying, uniting themselves with God in worship, uniting themselves with others, who are doing the work of Eliseus in our day. People are being brought back from the Hell of depression and isolation into a communion that is holy, being fed with the Bread that ends hunger and Wine that ends thirst, and coming into communion that has the real presence of Jesus within. If only we would do the same!

Of course, often in the eyes of many that is too humiliating. It seems to them that coming to Mass is too ordinary. The Mass is not entertaining enough in their eyes. We know of others, friends and even members of our own families, who prefer their own sources of grace apart from the Church, instead of the River of Life that flows from the pierced side of the crucified Christ that comes to us in Holy Communion. 

I am your servant and I will be honest with you. Why should we object to what is so ordinary? Why should we ignore the Christ who comes to us in ordinary bread and common wine? After all, if God really does want to identify Himself with men and women, wouldn’t the way He comes to us be indeed very ordinary? God wants plain men and women to love Him, not just saints. He wants ordinary men and women to work with Him, not just prophets. And He wants you working with His power within you, not just in gloriously arrayed prelates and priests of the Church.

Will you take some of this Israel we share here back home with you? I hope you will because I think we should follow in the footsteps of Naaman the general, as well as follow the one leper who returned to give thanks, to be with God, and to celebrate His power in our lives, sharing what we receive here with others, particularly those who are in need of healing. 

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”