Twentieth Sunday After Trinity Sunday

Harry Entwistle Crest RGB
By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle

Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross

Sunday 9 October, 2016
St Ninians & St Chads Church, Maylands

We all know that, at times, events or even life itself do not turn out as we expect them to. In fact, occasionally it is the opposite of what we planned. It is the same with our relationship with God. He and we do not always read from the same page. Today’s readings are rather like that and they flow on from last week’s readings about faith and what it means to live a faithful life.

Lepers are the subjects of two of the readings. Leprosy describes a variety of contagious diseases, so to contain it sufferers lived in camps away from the main settlement and had to avoid approaching non-leprous people.

Naaman was a valued leader in Syria but was leprous. His King wrote to the King of Israel asking him to pray to his God to cure Naaman. Not surprisingly, the King of Israel immediately handed this request to Elijah, God’s prophet. Naaman visited Elijah who didn’t bother to even greet him, but sent a message that he should wash himself seven times in the River Jordan.

Faith is not just believing God’s truth; it is trusting him as a person with whom we can have a relationship. In this relationship, God invites us to respond to his love for us, and when we do he lets us know what the next step is. Only when we have taken that step does he show us the next one. With God it is one step at a time.

Naaman took the first step by presenting himself to Elijah who relayed to him what God’s next step was, namely was in the River Jordan. That wasn’t what Naaman expected. He expected that Elijah would make a personal appearance, perform some elaborate ritual and ask Naaman do some something difficult. After all, the River Jordan didn’t even rate as a river compared to the rivers of Syria. So he didn’t take the next step and remained leprous.

When his servants bravely challenged Naaman and pointed out how stupid and stubborn he was being, he capitulated and did what Elijah had told him and was cured. He then took the next step and acknowledged that the God of Israel is the only true God and entered into a relationship with him. In that period it was believed that a god’s power only extended within a nation, so that is why Naaman asked to take three sacks of earth from Israel to Syria so he could build an altar and worship God. A little piece of Israel would be there in Syria, together with God’s presence. By trusting God through obedience to what he thought did not make sense, Naaman was faithful to God.

Lepers also confronted Jesus, but they obeyed the law and did not approach him. In this group there was a Samaritan because disease does not recognise social, religious or political boundaries. The lepers did not ask Jesus directly to be cured. They asked for God’s mercy because it was believed that sickness was a consequence of sin (some sicknesses still are), so in asking for mercy they were asking for forgiveness from God, and that was the very gift that would cure them.

Like Elijah with Naaman, Jesus responded to their request by asking them to do something that seemed illogical and belittling. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests who were the ones to issue them with a certificate of cure from the disease. There they were, still leprous, but told to go and get a clean bill of health. Logically this was an insult, but all of them obeyed and took the next step. Because they did, each one of them received what they had prayed for. God was merciful and they were cured. They could be restored to mainstream society, and for that they were thankful to God.

The Samaritan however did what Naaman did, and that was to take the next step. He recognised that God had worked through Jesus and so he returned to Jesus to thank God. In expressing this trust in God, he entered into a relationship with him and in response Jesus told him that his faith, his trust, had made him whole. In Greek the word translated as ‘whole’ means far more than being cured. It is the same word that is translated as ‘saved.’ This is what salvation is. It is trusting God and what he has revealed to us in and through Jesus to such a degree that even when God appears to be silent in our lives, or asks us to do illogical or seemingly difficult things, we continue to trust him.

Jesus himself trusted his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross when God was silent. Jesus’ responses, “Not my will, but thine be done,” and “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” are clear statements of trust that elicited no response from his Father but silence.

When you think of it the Christian gospel is full of illogical statements that disciples are asked to accept and obey.
“The first shall be last and the last first.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“A leader must be a servant.”
“If you want to be my disciple, pick up your cross.”
‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live for ever.”
“Take and eat this bread, for this is my body. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Are these things logical in a worldly sense? Yet we are asked to obey them, and if our trust in God is no greater than a mustard seed it is enough.

The epistle to Timothy tells us that if Christ is first in our lives rather than ourselves, he will live in our lives and we will live with him. If we persevere in trusting him, we will reign with him, but if we deny him, or claim not to know him, he will deny that he knows us. The good news of course is that if we do turn our back on him, he is still there like the Prodigal’s father, waiting for us to return home to him.

The Christian faith is a journey of faith – trusting God enough to do his will rather than selfishly doing our own thing. Simple isn’t it?