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Thursday, 6 October 2016

Homily for 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

2 Kings 5:14-17, 2 Timothy 2:8-13, Luke 17:11-19

On the Gospel, Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Harry Ironside, the great American Bible teacher, went into a crowded restaurant to have a meal. Just as he was about to begin his meal, a man approached and asked if he could join him. Ironside invited him to have a seat. Then, as was his custom, Ironside bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes, the other man asked, “Do you have a headache?” Ironside replied, “No, I don’t.” The man continued, “Is something wrong with your food?” Ironside replied, “No, I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat.” The man said, “Oh, you're one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know that I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anybody when I eat. I just start right in!” Ironside said, “Yes, you're just like my dog. That’s what he does too!”

There are many people in our society today who are just like Ironside’s dog. Such people believe they have earned every good that comes their way and, therefore, do not need to thank anyone or any God for it. They forget that the blessings that come into our lives are God’s blessings before they become our achievements. What did anyone do to merit being born alive while some people were born dead or were even aborted? What did you do to deserve loving parents while many people never had any? What did you do to have eyes to see, ears to hear, tongue to speak, feet to walk, that some people among us do not have? How much did you pay God to make you such an intelligent and beautiful person? Think of the many wonderful teachers, friends and relations that you have had and that you still have. We take our blessings for granted. Emerson once said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them. We have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore. How easily we grow accustomed to our blessings and forget to give thanks for them.

In today’s gospel Jesus heals ten lepers. Only one returns to give him thanks. Why didn't the nine lepers return? Here are some suggested reasons why the nine did not return:
One said, “I think we need to wait and see if the cure is for real, if it would last.”
One said, “Besides, there’s plenty of time to see Jesus later, if we need to.”
One said, “You know what: Maybe we never even had leprosy in the first place.”
One said, “There was no doubt in my mind that we would get well someday.”
One said, “I told you guys that if you think positively that you will be well, you will?”
One said, “Jesus didn't really do anything special; any rabbi could have done it.”
One said, “Now that we are okay, we do still need him?”
One said, “What we need now is the temple priest, the one who can declare us clean.”
One said, “Jesus said to go to the priest. He would be mad with us if we return to him now.”
You can see from these reasons that ingratitude often stems from selfishness and greed. Ingratitude is nothing but putting my need to get more before other people’s need to be complimented for what I have received from them.

Fortunately there is the tenth leper who says nothing but simply turns back to thank Jesus. He is a Samaritan, a foreigner. He cannot go to the priest because the priest would not minister to him. He does not belong to the “right” religion. He is regarded as a lawless sinner because he does not observe the Jewish Law. The nine Jewish lepers go to the priest because they want to fulfill the law. The lawless one follows his natural instincts and returns to Jesus to give thanks. Sometimes common sense is more accurate than the letters of the law in deciphering the will of God in particular situations. People who disregard common sense and reason and seek only to fulfill what the law or the man of God says often end up getting it wrong, like the nine lepers.

Many Christians today do not attend Sunday worship. More than anything, this is a sign that we have become an ungrateful people. This is so because the main reason why Christians come together on Sunday is to give thanks to God. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” If we count our blessing, if we realise that all is from above, then we shall be more likely to act like the Samaritan leper when he realised he was healed – to return with joy and give God thanks and praise – every Sunday.

On the Epistle, The Gospel: Good News and Bad News

Imagine yourself like Alice in Wonderland. You are very hungry and thirsty. And a rich variety of food and goodies is set before you. You are told that you may eat anything you want all day on the condition that you also eat a live frog hopping about inside one of the dishes. How will you proceed? Most of us will start with the goodies and put off eating the frog for as long as possible. If you do that you will not really enjoy yourself because all the while you know that your frog is waiting for you. A wise person will first eat the frog and then spend the rest of the day having fun. The gospel is like that, as Paul explains in today’s second reading from his Second Letter to Timothy.

The reading begins with Paul asking Timothy to remember the heart of the gospel. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – that is my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). Paul is not asking Timothy to remember something that happened in the past, namely, that Jesus rose from the dead. He is asking him to keep before his eyes (“keep remembering”) the present reality that the Risen Christ is now always with us. Men and women of heroic faith down through the ages agree that there is no better way of growing in holiness than to keep in mind always and everywhere the fact that the Risen Lord is with us. Christ always with us is like the compass that guides us in the right way as well as the dynamo that energizes us from within.

A second point to remember is that this Jesus is a descendant of David, that is, he is human like us. We often forget that Jesus is human like us in all things but sin. Because he is human, Jesus understands the various trials, temptations and hardships that we face in our day-to-day lives. When we remember that Jesus is human like us, then we can aspire to be like him: to live for God like him, to accept suffering and death like him, and to rise again to eternal glory like him.

The gospel is good news and bad news. First the bad news. “That is my gospel for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). The gospel lands Paul in jail. He is in chains, literally, in a prison in Rome awaiting execution. That doesn’t sound much like good news. Anyone who decides to accept and live by the gospel must be prepared for inconvenience. Jesus was inconvenienced, so was Paul, and so shall we be if we be true to the gospel.
“But the word of God is not chained” (2:9b). The message is bigger than the messenger. The messenger could be imprisoned and killed but the truth of the gospel cannot be chained or stopped. This was a source of consolation for Paul. When we find the gospel, we find a reason to live and a reason to die. We are happy to suffer and to die so long as the word of God prospers and lives on.
The saying is sure: 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 will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful-- for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

At last comes the good news. If at first we accept the bad news of the cross, then, in the end, we shall rejoice in the good news of the crown; if we endure the pain, we shall enjoy the gain. With these words Paul encourages Timothy, his son in the faith, to embrace the gospel wholeheartedly and follow its demands uncompromisingly. In the short run it may bring him much inconvenience and even death. But in the long run it will bring him eternal life and glory.

The same gospel is presented to us today. In the short term is might sound like bad news: do not live your life as you please, surrender your life to Go and live the way God demands; do not keep all your wealth to yourself, share with the poor; but in the end it will be found to be good news indeed. It is like we all have this dish of goodies and a live frog to eat. Those who prefer to eat the goodies now will have to eat their frog at the end, but those who decide to eat the frog now, unpleasant as it is, will then have all eternity to enjoy the goodies. Which do you choose?

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