2 Kgs 5:14-17; 2 Tim 2:8-13
Leprosy even today evokes fear and some sense of repulsion. In the time of Jesus it was most feared because of its visible effects in the skin of the person and also because it was contagious; one could easily be contaminated. Thus, the leper had to cry out “unclean” or ring a bell so no one would come near. Lepers had to live in isolated places away from others. Thus one did not only have the feeling of loneliness but also being rejected by everyone. The Gospel explicitly says that the ten lepers hailed Jesus from a distance.
In the 1st reading, Naaman expected Elisha the prophet to come out and pray over him, and command the leprosy to leave him; but Elisha simply gave orders that he go and bathe in the Jordan river seven times. As the highest ranking officer in the army of Aram he hated being ordered. But at the insistence of his officers he relented and obeyed. His leprosy was thus healed and his skin became fresh as of a child. Obedience meant humility and faith in the words of the prophet; he must really be a man of God. He returned to Elisha to express his thanks and gave a gift which the prophet refused to accept because the power to heal was a gift freely given by God and must be freely given out to others. Naaman realizes that only the God of Israel has healed his leprosy, then he must be the true God and no other. He is the God to be worshiped. Why bring two cart loads of soil from Israel? It was the belief that each god has his own territory and people. The land of Israel belonged to Yahweh thus if Naaman had to worship Yahweh he had to worship him on his own soil. This was his way of expressing his gratitude.
When the Samaritans were exiled in Assyria, they intermarried with foreigners and were no longer the pure blooded descendants of Abraham. Thus they were shunned by the other tribes. St. Luke in his Gospel exalts the Samaritan as foreigner, because the Greeks for whom he wrote his Gospel were non-Jews. Only St. Luke gives us the parable of the Good Samaritan, and now the Samaritan in this story of the ten lepers, where the faith of this foreigner has brought him salvation. Faith, not the Jewish blood, not being descendant of Abraham in the flesh, brings salvation to this Samaritan, so will faith bring salvation to the Greek gentiles for whom St. Luke wrote his Gospel. Jesus has healed his leprosy, then God must be in Jesus, and to him he gives thanks in a loud voice. He fell at the feet of Jesus in an act of worship just as Naaman would worship no other God but Yahweh on his own soil.
From these two foreigners, we who are also non-Jews, can learn that the best way to express our gratitude is to render worship to the Lord in thought, word and action.
In Isaiah 56, there is an important message for us non-Jews, or foreigners: v. 3, “Let not the foreigner say, … ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ … v. 6, The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants, all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, v. 7, Them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their holocausts and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Isaiah 66:18, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. … v.21, Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the Lord. …v. 23 All mankind shall come to worship before me, says the Lord.”
The healing of Naaman and the Samaritan leper was just an introduction to the universal call to salvation, that God wants all men to be saved. In Acts 10, St. Peter opened the way by baptizing the Roman centurion Cornelius and his whole household. Later, Paul and Barnabas went out from Antioch to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles throughout the Roman empire. The best way to express our gratitude for the gift of faith in the Gospel is to heed the Word of God and put it into practice in thought, word and deed. -0-