Homily for October 13, 2013

Ten Lepers by James Christensen

Homily for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

(Click on the image for a better view of Christensen's painting!)

Audio for Homily

Ever been to a nine year old’s birthday party?
Ever watched a nine year old open a gift
and be obviously thrilled and pleased at what was inside?
Ever hear an adult voice just at that moment:
“And what do you say?”
     “Thank you, Aunt Sally.”
“Good! Now go give Aunt Sally a big hug and a kiss!”

Keep that scene in mind.

We should be careful not to miss 
one very important detail in this gospel.
In response to the lepers’ cry for help,
the first thing Jesus does is -- send them away!
He doesn’t immediately cure them, 
he tells them to go to the temple in Jerusalem
and present themselves to the priests there.

I wonder what they thought when Jesus told them that.
I wonder if they were actually going to go the temple in Jerusalem.
I wonder if they were disappointed 
that Jesus hadn’t done more for them.

But then, somewhere along the road, wherever they were heading,
their leprous skin was healed.

I can’t begin to imagine the shouts of joy, the tears of happiness,
the amazement of these ten lepers at having been healed!

But I can imagine at least 9 of them going straight home.
Going home to share their good news with family and friends.
And I can imagine them turning around 
in the general direction of Jesus
and waving and shouting out,
“Hey, Jesus -- thanks! Much appreciated!”

And then off on their way they went…

I can imagine these things because I’ve been there and done that.
Perhaps you’ve been there and done that, too.
We pray earnestly for someone or for something
and should our prayer be answered as we’d hoped,
we raise our eyes to heaven and say, “Thank God!”

And then, like the 9 lepers, we’re on our way down the road.

Am I suggesting, then, that “Thank God!” 
isn’t a big enough thank-you?
Well, I don’t think that’s the point of this gospel.
The gospel is much more 
than a lesson in good manners or social graces.

The 9 lepers were doing just what you and I might do
-- while that 1 leper, just as happy and just as excited as the others,
came back to Jesus and fell to his knees,
rejoicing not only in the gift he’d received --
but rejoicing in the Giver as well.

The gift he received led him back to the Giver...

Isn’t that what we learned at a birthday party
when we were nine years old?
“What do you say?”
      “Thank you, Aunt Sally”
“Now go give Aunt Sally a big hug and a kiss!”

What we try to teach our children 
(and what we often forget ourselves)
is that the generous love of the Giver is always more important,
is always of greater value, than the gift we receive.

Jesus’ concern here is the same.
He cured those lepers as a sign of the greater gift he offers:
a redeeming relationship with him.

Jesus didn’t “take back” the cure of the 9 because they ran off,
but he makes clear to the one who did come back
that his faith saved him,
that he’d been given something greater than his cure:
that he’d been given the love and intimacy of the Giver in his heart.

So, if you will, we're invited, you and I, to go back and
“Give Jesus a big hug and a kiss.”

Like children at birthday parties, even as adults
we can often be more interested 
in getting the “present” we pray for
than in the one who gives it to us.

This gospel is calling us, is calling us to grow up.

Suppose each of us were to sit down this long weekend 
and begin to make a list of all the blessings in our lives, 
all the gifts we’ve received,
all the people who have loved us and cared for us
of all the way’s the Lord has been there with us and for us.

How grateful have we been to the Giver for all we’ve received?
How have all these gifts helped us grow closer to the Giver?
Have the gifts I’ve received and the things I now pray for
become more important in my life (what I get)
than the love of the One to whom I pray?

For Christians, there is really only one gift that truly matters
and that gift is the saving love of God.
Nothing else I want or desire, 
nothing else I want or desire, 
can bring me more peace than the gift of God’s love
in times of plenty and in times of want,
in times of joy and in times of sorrow.

This weekend might be a good time
to follow the lead of that one leper and return to Jesus,
letting our gratitude for all our gifts
bring us back to the Giver.

We might begin with the greatest gift Jesus has given us:
the gift of himself, in the suffering and sacrifice of the Cross
and in the Bread and Cup of this Altar
where he gives himself again and again,
that we might be saved by faith
and grow closer to him, the Giver of all good gifts.

So, let's go to his Table now, grateful for all our gifts 
but most of all, grateful for the One who blesses us with them.


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