Holy Spirit

ACTA  

 

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

 

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year C 

Year of Luke

Download: Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year C

READINGS

 

A reading from second book of the Kings                  5:14-17

Responsorial Psalm                         Psalm 98:1-4. R/. cf. v. 2

A reading from the second letter of St Paul to Timothy   

2:8-13

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 17:11-19



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At the heart of each of our four Gospels is an identity question: 

 

Who then is this that even wind and sea obey him?

Mark 4:41

Are you the one who is to come,

or shall we look for another?

Matthew 11:3

 

If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him.

Luke 7:39

 

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

John 1:46

 

Each Gospel discloses the identity of Jesus in different ways.  The Gospel according to St John creates a pattern of I AM sayings intended to disclose who Jesus is.  It is Jesus himself who declares his identity:

 

…unless you believe that I AM,

you will die in your sins.

John 8:24

… before Abraham was, I AM.

John 8:58

 

… when it does take place, you may believe that I AM.

John 13:19

 

These I AM statements are based on the revelation God makes to Moses when, according to the Book of Exodus 3:14, God reveals his identity to him:

 

I AM who I AM.

 

    To specify what the I AM is in relation to the people of the world, Jesus makes a succession of statements that clarify precisely what the I AM is:

 

                        I AM the bread of life            John 35 and 51

                     I AM the light of the world                John 8:12

                        I AM the sheep-gate             John 10:7 and 9 

                     I AM the good shepherd      John10:11 and 14 

                 I AM the resurrection and the life        John 11:25

              I AM the way, the truth, and the life        John 14:6 

                        I AM the true vine                John 15:1 and 5 

 

Let me repeat, the most distinguishing mark of the Gospel according to John is that, throughout this Gospel, Jesus is the one who reveals himself.

    St Mark’s Gospel is peculiar in that his approach seems to be to conceal the identity of Jesus.  But he is a failed concealer, as it were. Jesus constantly warns those he heals not to reveal who it is who has healed them.  But they do so, for how can their restoration to perfect health be concealed? Most famously, when Jesus and three disciples are coming down the mountain on which Jesus had been transfigured and the voice from the cloud identified him as “my beloved Son”, 

 

… he [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had been risen from the dead.  

Mark 9:9

 

    Even more bewildering is what happens after Jesus had raised the daughter of Jairus from death. Jesus cautioned all who were there, and who were overcome with amazement, not to reveal what had happened:

 

And he strictly charged them that no one should know of this, and told them to give her something to eat.   Mark 5:43

 

    What Mark is doing as he tells the story is allowing those who are told not to reveal, to reveal who it is who healed them.  The restraining order does not work, nor does Mark really intend it to work. What he wants to emphasise is that no one can fully understand who Jesus is unless they stand at the foot of the cross and learn what the Roman centurion learned there:

 

And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said,

“Truly this man was the Son of God”.

Mark 15:39

 

    Mark, the first writer to undertake writing what became a Gospel, had a very keen sense of drama.  So, indeed, did Matthew, Luke, and John. But each of the four organised their material in different ways, all with the same purpose: to identify Jesus of Nazareth.   

   One sentence well illustrates how each of our gospel-makers plot their drama.  Mark and Matthew both record the last words of Jesus as he died:


My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Mark 15:34/Matthew 27:46

 

One of them records the words in Aramaic, the other in Hebrew.  But that apparently slight difference is very significant.   

    Unlike the other Gospels, Luke adopts another tack.  As Jesus and his three disciples came down the mountain of the Transfiguration, this is what Luke records:

 

And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.                                          Luke 9:31

 

That is a very careful sentence.  First, it is the three disciples, Peter, John, and James, not Jesus, as in Mark, who impose silence on themselves.  But it is a qualified silence: they told no one in those days.  There will be a time to proclaim all they had seen and heard.  When the Holy Spirit turns the disciples into apostles, as we read in Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, then they will be authorised to tell the whole story. 

   Yet this self-imposed silence is not the norm in Luke.  When Jesus rid a young boy of a convulsive spirit the great crowd who witnessed the event,

 

were all astonished at the majesty of God.

Luke 9:43.

    From the very beginning of his Gospel, we have announcing angels, singing heavenly choirs, and shepherds who went around telling everybody.  When they saw the baby,

 

they made known the saying that has been told them concerning the child.                                             Luke 2:17

 

And what was it that had been told them?  The angel of the Lord said to them,

 

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:10

 

There is a pattern here.  Luke allows the people and the events he narrates to speak for themselves.  To his account of the widow’s son raised from the dead in the little town of Nain, Luke mentions the immediate reactions of “the great crowd” who accompanied Jesus, together with the considerable funeral cortege:

 

Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

Luke 7:16-17 

 

The “fear” that seized them all is the fear of God. “Fear” is mentioned about 430 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Often, and especially in the Psalms, it is the reverent attitude of those who await the coming of God, who longingly look forward with great faith that God will save, that God will come to the aid  of God’s faithful people. Notice in Luke’s sentence how “fear” and “glorified” come together; awe and praise are mingled as the crowds realise that “God has visited his people”. 

    Luke constantly emphasises that “all the people” reacted positively to what Jesus did.  When a woman, bent in two by a disabling spirit for eighteen years, is freed from her disability by Jesus, there are two reactions.  The synagogue ruler voiced the indignation of the authorities because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. But nobody else agreed with the begrudgers:

 

… all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.                                                       

Luke 13:17 

 

Again do not miss the implication of that word “glorious”.  Glory belongs to God in the highest. What encouraged the people to rejoice was that they realised that in Jesus they were seeing the glory of God.  We will need to remember this when we meet the ten lepers.    

   What we must be aware of is that each of our gospel-makers went about disclosing the identity of Jesus in his own way.  We must respect the image of Jesus that is peculiar to each writer and avoid making our own composite picture. 



A reading from second book of the Kings                  5:14-17

… [Naaman the Syrian] he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

  Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 

The Word of the Lord.

 

There’s nothing so annoying as coming to a story in the middle of its telling. Who is Naaman, apart from the fact the he is a leper?   Why did Elisha (who is he?) send the leper to dip himself in the Jordan River? Why seven times? And why does the healed leper want two mule loads of earth?

     Briefly, Naaman was a Syrian army general in the service of his king.  He was an upright man, to such a degree that God favoured him with military success.  Unfortunately he was stricken with leprosy. On a raid into Israel (this sort of thing has been going on for a long time) he carried off a little girl and gave her to his wife as a slave.  The little girl advised her mistress that there was a prophet in Samaria who could cure her husband’s leprosy should he come before the prophet. (“To come before someone” means to defer to that person.  Naaman would have to come as a humble pilgrim to God’s prophet.).

  Naaman got permission from the king, who gave him a letter of introduction to the king of Israel and a message to the king that he was expecting his general to be healed  and brought a hefty bag of gold to pay for the cure. When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his garments, suspecting a pretext for war - for the king of Israel had no great trust in Elisha the prophet, certainly not in the business of curing leprosy.

    When Elisha heard about it, he told the king to send the leper to him.  Naaman arrived with his horses and his chariot and parked outside the entrance to Elisha’s house.  Elisha sent a messenger out to say, 

 

Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.

II Kings 5:10

 

    Now that is no way to treat a general in the Syrian army and Naaman was furious, expecting the prophet to come out, call on his god, wave his arms around, and place his hands upon him.  Were there not rivers in Syria, great rivers that make the tiny Jordan look like a muddy little stream? Could he not wash in them? So he went off in a huff. But his attendants advised him just to go, do what he was told:

So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.                                                                II Kings 5:14 

 

So the great commander is healed and returns to Elisha and stood before him - at last a sign of humility before the prophet, the man of God.  His offering of a stipend is turned down. It is God, not Elisha who has healed.  

    Naaman is converted to faith in the God of Elisha.  Notice what he says:

 

There is no God in all the earth except in Israel.

 II Kings 5:15 

 

Naaman takes two sacks of the earth of Israel, the land where God is Lord. He will have his own little piece of Israel on which to worship the God of Israel.

    Elisha was the prophet who was called to succeed Elijah when that fiery man was taken away in a chariot of fire.  Stories of the doing of both these prophets in the Books of the Kings suggest they come from a time when belief in one God did not exclude the existence of other gods of other peoples.  God was the God of Israel.

    What we learn from the Naaman story is that the mercy of God was not and cannot be confined to one people, one church, or one race.  There are no outsiders as far as the God of Israel, the God of Jesus, and the God of Jesus people, is concerned.  

 

Responsorial Psalm                         Psalm 98:1-4. R/. cf. v. 2

 

R/.    The Lord has made known his salvation;

he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

 

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,

for he has done marvellous things!

His right hand and his holy arm

               have worked salvation for him.         R/.

 The Lord has made known his salvation;

he has revealed his righteousness 

in the sight of the nations.

 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness

                        to the house of Israel.               R/.

 

All the ends of the earth have seen

 the salvation of our God.

 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;

 break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

 

R/.    The Lord has made known his salvation;

he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

 

Psalm 96 begins with a call from the songwriter to sing a new song to the Lord.  In truth Psalm 96 and Psalm 98 are mosaics, each a collection of lines drawn from other songs in the Book of Psalms.

   The Lord is a victorious God who fights to win salvation and it is in saving that this God is revealed to the nations.  It is salvation, righteousness, and steadfast love that characterise his love of Israel and his love for all the nations.  All the ends of the earth are embraced by that love and all the earth is invited to join in the song.

 

A reading from the second letter of St Paul to Timothy   

2:8-13

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 

The saying is trustworthy, for:

 

If we have died with him, 

we will also live with him;

if we endure, 

we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, 

he also will deny us;

if we are faithless,

he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

The word of the Lord.

 

The author of the second letter allegedly written to St Paul’s companion and fellow apostle continues to give advice to Timothy.  Of course, the letter is really directed to second or third generation Christians. The fiction is that Paul is in prison in Rome and is sending directives to his former companion.  Paul, says the letter, is offering up his sufferings for all who have embraced faith in Jesus Christ. His prayer is that the salvation he preached will be effective and bring “the elect” to eternal glory.

    The last lines of today’s reading may be a hymn, either composed by the writer or quoted from a Christian song.  In any case, it follows a familiar pattern to be found in hundreds of songs, religious or not. “If you do, then …” but “If you don’t, then…”. 

    Today’s second reading sounds like a piece of catechesis that shows how Christians share in the life of Christ on earth and in the eternal glory of hereafter.  Just as the resurrection of Jesus marks the beginning of his glorious reign, so (through baptism) Christians in this life begin the process by which they will come to the joy of eternal glory.  Suffering on this earth is no more than Jesus himself endured. As the destiny of Jesus is eternal glory through suffering, so that is the destiny of all who are by baptism in Christ.

    The hymn-like lines quoted may have been a baptismal song.    The assurance seems to be that even if the baptised are faithless, this does not mean that Jesus is faithless in response to infidelity.  Salvation that is in Christ is always founded on the fidelity of Christ and it is not earned. It is always a gift.      

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 17:11-19

 

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus 'feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”. 

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Luke is very fond of outsiders, especially if they can be held up to shame those who ought to know better.  Consider how the priest and the Levite passed on the other side. It was left to the Samaritan to have compassion and to tend the wounds.  Consider of “the woman of the city, who was a sinner” who washed the feet of Jesus while Simon, the Pharisee, dismissed any notion that Jesus was a prophet and ought to know “what sort of woman this is: who is touching him.”  But Jesus had a word for Simon and a word for the woman and she was the one sent away filled with God’s peace. Consider another outsider, Zacchaeus. A tax collector and rich, filthy rich, by the sound of it, makes the same point.    All he did to attach the pastoral care of Jesus was to climb a tree (Luke 19:1-10). In many ways Jesus was an outsider himself, at least as far as his home village were concerned:

 

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

Luke 4:28-30

 

    It is then no great surprise to learn that the leper who returned to give thanks is a Samaritan.

   Careful readers and hearers of Luke’s story will notice that the incident occurs “on the way to Jerusalem”.   Luke’s Greek is more emphatic than our English translations would have us believe. This is a very word-for-word translation:

 

And it happened that in the journeying toward Jerusalem he was passing through the middle of Samaria and Galilee and as he was making his way into a certain village he was met by ten leprous men standing at a distance.

Luke 17:11-12

 

    First, since 9:51 when Jesus turned his face to go to Jerusalem, we have frequently been reminded that he is journeying to the city of destiny.  We need to notice how this journey is peppered with acts of mercy and compassion, of warnings that wealth can distract one from the ways of God, and of the cost of discipleship and the necessity to divest oneself of all in order to be a disciple.  However, we are reminded that the journey of Jesus to suffering is a journey that leads to glory (as our second reading today underlined).  

   Secondly, the odd geographical information is very instructive.  While Jews and Samaritans regarded each other with contempt, what Jesus meets is a mixed group of Jews and a Samaritan, united together, not be race, colour, or creed, but by leprosy. 

    As to be expected, the lepers were “standing at a distance”.  But “they lifted up their voices”, means more than they shouted.  It has a suggestion of praying, not in itself but when Luke’s Christian readers and hearers pay attention to the exact words used by the men:

 

Ἰησοῦ ἐπιστάτα, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.

Jesus, Master, mercy us.

 

Christians who pray Kyrie, eleison (literally, Lord, mercy! - an imperative), will agree that the lepers lifted up their voices in prayer, unlike Naaman, who stood on his dignity.

Immediately on seeing them Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests.

 

    The Samaritan

 

It is at this point the readers and hearers need to be careful.  We have been told that Jesus and those with him are making their way through the middle of Samaria and Galilee.  While this is an odd geographical piece of information, since one can’t be in the middle of both at the same time, Luke is not seeking credit for his geographical knowledge.  He is emphasising the every-day hostility between Jews and Samaritans as a feature in his story.  

    This being so, nine lepers will have set out for Jerusalem but the Samaritan will have set out for Mount Gerazim, to the Temple there, and where his priests were to be found.

    On their way, the leprous men were made clean.  The Samaritan going to see his priest, realising that he had been healed turned back and made his way to Jesus,

 

… with a loud voice glorifying God, and falling on his face at the feet of [Jesus], giving thanks to him …

 

- and, we are told, this man was a Samaritan.

   

   We learn early in life that we ought to say “Thank you” for kindnesses received.  Luke is not teaching his readers and hearers to suck eggs. The prayer-book of the Jewish people is and was the Book of Psalms, where words of thanks and thanksgiving are two a penny.  The Samaritan has not come back to Jesus to say “Thank you”. He has come back to Jesus of Nazareth giving glory to God. To do this, he falls at the feet of Jesus, giving him thanks. But Jesus makes the telling point:

 

Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?



  The most important question today’s Gospel asks of those who have ears to hear is this:

 

Why should you turn to Jesus to give thanks to God?

 

And another question:  

 

Why is it that though all were cleansed, 

                                            only the Samaritan was healed?

 

And, finally, the ESV translation of the words of Jesus to the 

Samaritan offers “you faith has made you well”.  But what Luke wrote in Greek is more properly translated “your faith has saved you”.  What Luke intends his readers and hearers to understand is that Jesus has sent the man home as one who has experienced the salvation that Jesus was born into this world to deliver to humanity. As the angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds,

 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David

a Saviour,

who is Christ the Lord.

 

Joseph O’Hanlon

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