11 October 2013

'He fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.' Sunday Reflections, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Peasant Girls with Brushwood, c.1852, Jean-François Millet [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings(Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus 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 and said, "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 said Jesus, "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."

[Responsorial Psalm, New American Bible Lectionary]

Bear with me if I've told this story before but the incident in question had a profound impact on me. It happened on the morning of Holy Thursday 1990 at Holy Family Retreat House, Cebu City, which is run by the Redemptorists. I had gone up there after breakfast to do some business and as I was going in was approached by a woman asking for some help. I made some excuse as I entered.

When I was inside I could see the woman through the glass doors sitting on the step, her daughter, aged 13 or 14, beside here and resting her head on her mother's shoulder. I could see that, like the two peasant girls in Millet's painting, they were heavily burdened - but with tiredness and hunger.

My business didn't detain me and when I was going out the two stood up. I gave the mother enough to buy breakfast. The daughter looked at me with the most beautiful smile I've ever seen and said, 'Salamat sa Ginoo - Thanks to the Lord!'

What struck me profoundly was that this young girl wasn't thanking me. She was thanking the Lord, and inviting me to do the same, because he had responded to her prayer and that of her mother, Give us this day our daily bread.

In the First Reading, which is always related to the Gospel, Elisha reacts very strongly to Naaman's gratitude after he was cured of leprosy: Then he (Naaman) 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, whom I serve, I will receive none." And he urged him to take it, but he refused (2 Kings 5: 15-16, RSVCE). 

Naaman was grateful to God for his cure but wanted to reward Elisha. In de Grebber's painting we see Elisha turning away from Naaman almost in horror. Perhaps he overreacted but he had a profound sense of the fact that it wasn't he who had healed the Syrian general but God whose servant and instrument he was. Elisha wanted only God to be praised and thanked.

And indeed it was a young girl, probably around the same age as the one I met in Cebu City, who had directed Naaman to the Lord through his servant Elisha. In verses preceding those read today we read: Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little maid from the land of Israel, and she waited on Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord, "Thus and so spoke the maiden from the land of Israel." And the king of Syria said, "Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel" (2 Kings 5:1-5 RSVCE).

The young girl in Cebu expressed her gratitude for what I had given her mother by praising God directly and by inviting me to join her in her prayer of praise and thanksgiving. In doing so she gave me a far greater gift than any that Naaman could have offered Elisha, a profound awareness that everything we have is a gift from God.

I had never met the girl and her mother before nor have I seen them since. The girl would now be around 36 or 37. Please say a prayer for her and her mother and for their family.

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