28th Sunday in Ordinary Time year C – 9 October 2016 – Thank You!
That the world was flat until Columbus landed in the Caribbean is a popular but inaccurate fable. Also, there is no clear evidence that the 15th century dogmatically inclined Spanish Church enforced that idea. It was the novelist Washington Irving who created those falsehoods in 1828 in his biography about Columbus.  Actually Columbus simply miscalculated the vastness of the world just like probably we cannot comprehend the immeasurable magnitude of creation.
Today’s biblical texts offer us a chance to focus on the immensity of God’s presence, God’s mercy in the world. The first reading tells a story about Naaman a respected commander in Syria who had the dreaded disease leprosy. The other character in the story, Elisha the prophet, was well known not for military strength but the miracles he worked. Elisha instructs Naaman to wash in the Jordan River that straddled Syria and the land of the Israelites. The story is often linked to teachings about salvation.
At first Naaman was angry because Elisha did not personally tend to him. But, after his disciples prompted him to enter the murky waters of the Jordan he was healed.Naaman tried to give Elisha a gift to show his gratitude. Elisha, a good not-for-profit servant of God, refused the gift. Naaman who believed that God only worked salvific wonders within the borders of Israel asked Elisha if he could bring dirt from the land of the Israelites into Syria to spread the power of God. Perhaps the unknown author of the second reading had this tale in mind when writing that the word of God cannot be chained.
The gospel continues the thread with the story about the lepers who were washed clean due to the initiative and action of Jesus of Nazareth. The message in this story, however, shifts slightly away from the messianic work of salvation to one of gratitude. Only one leper came back to say “thanks” to Jesus and he was a Samaritan, a dreaded enemy of the Jews. Once again, the message is that God’s mercy is borderless.
These stories help us think of ways to spread God’s mercy by crossing borders to help people confined by visible and invisible barriers that prevent them from living peaceful wholesome lives. They also remind you and me to be grateful for the mercy of God made present in our ministries.
We give thanks for the volunteers who visit inmates in area prisons to bring them a spirit of care and the word of God. We are grateful for those who visit sick and dying persons in our hospitals to offer them comfort and hope. We give thanks for those who work in our food pantry every week to stock goods and serve guests who, otherwise, would go without supplies to nourish themselves and their families.
We are grateful for those who haunt the halls of our Capitol reminding elected officials to erase laws that discount and dishonor people living on the fringes of life; to create laws that treat everyone fairly. And, we are grateful for each member of our families, children and adults, who teach each other what matters most.
There are many borders that limit the experience of God. We Christians join members of other faith traditions to tear down barriers and to spread the mercy God everywhere like Naaman, Elisha and Jesus did. And we do so without expecting thanks or rewards.
On the other hand we are mindful of how important it is for us to be grateful for what we have in life. The eucharistic prayer at every Mass is our premier utterance of thanksgiving. We proclaim it to remember and embrace the life of Jesus and to join Christ in thanking God who loves the human race and continues to walk with us wherever we go.
- Irving, Washington. A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.