|2 Kings 5:14-17
2 Timothy 2:8-13
|October 12-13, 2013, Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C|
Eight year old Billy came home from his friend's birthday party. His Mom asked him, "Billy did you thank Mrs. Murphy for the party?" Billy replied, "I was going to but Janie was ahead of me and when she said thank you to Mrs. Murphy for the party, Mrs. Murphy told her not to mention it. "
I am the last person to suggest that we take everything literally but words and phrases can be a good clue about what is going on in our culture, especially as we see how they change over time. Our understanding of gratitude or thanksgiving is not what it used to be. It is certainly not what it was in Jesus' time. And I think some of the phrases that we hear today around that whole experience of giving and thanking expresses that change. For instance, instead of "no thank you" we often hear, "I'm good." For you're welcome, we hear "No problem" or "Don't mention it". These current phrases are expressions that cut short any continued relationship based on the gift or gesture that evoked the thank you in the first place. One of the commentators that I read said that in the ancient Middle East to say "Thank you" is to end a relationship. Instead of thanks the receiver of the gift became obliged. The old cowboy movies reflected that sentiment when the cowboy would tip his hat and instead of thank you, would say, "Much obliged, ma'am."
True gratitude requires that first, we appreciate the gift, not just that there was a gift but what its value is and what love it is given with; and then secondly, it requires that we recognize that even when the gift is freely given, the receiving of that gift invites a response. And not just a response in words. It requires a response that let's the giver know that we truly believe that the giver loves us. In that sense it obliges us.
Today's first and Gospel reading are about gratitude, rather than being miracle stories about healing. And they emphasize their point by having the foreigner be the one that expresses true gratitude. Naaman gets that true meaning of gratitude in the first reading. Naaman is a general in the Syrian army (Syria was called Aram back in the 9th century BC). Now Syria and Israel were no more friendly than they are today so when the King of Aram sends Naaman to the king of Israel with a letter basically saying please cure Naaman, the king of Israel thinks it is all a setup to give Aram an excuse to invade Israel. But Elisha is up to the task. He doesn't even meet Naaman at first but sends his representative to tell Naaman that he must go and bathe 7 times in the river Jordan to be healed. Naaman is indignant. Bathe in that puny stream when he had so many majestic rivers back home in Aram. But when his attendants convince him he has nothing to lose, and he is healed, he is truly grateful. First he tries to fulfill that obligation by bestowing gifts on Elisha but when Elisa refuses them, Naaman instead asks for dirt so that he might continue to worship the God of Israel surrounded by the dirt from the land of his people. He is obliged by the gift of healing to worship the God of Israel for the rest of his life.
In the Gospel, the 9 Jews who were cured, either don't recognize the gift as coming from Jesus or they don't recognize it as an act of love that calls out for a loving response. Only the foreigner, the Samaritan, gets it and returns to thank Jesus and to glorify God. How happy that must have made God to know the Samaritan really believed that God loved him.
What about us? Do we have true gratitude for the gifts we have received? I realize that I am preaching to the choir here. Obviously at some level all of us here recognize the gifts God has given us and what it calls us to, because we are here. But what struck me as I reflected on these readings, was the depth of my dependence on God, the starkness of my poverty. Not a dependency or poverty that is degrading, but one that calls me to try to respond to the gifts with the same love they are given.
Starting with the very existence of the universe, which I had nothing to do with, to my birth, ditto, to where I grew up and how I was formed by my parents and family, to what I owe my wife Betsy and my children and grandchildren and this community, to the next breath I take, I am totally dependent on God. Not one of us can say honestly that we are a self made man or woman. The same is true for our faith. It is a pure gift. And as we start to appreciate the depth of our dependency, and the gift that this is, how do we respond? What does that oblige us to do?
For all of us here we at least recognized it enough to be here today. For many of us we recognize it enough to bring our children for baptism, and then Eucharist, and confirmation, and to bring them (and ourselves) to our continuing formation in the faith through Generations of Faith. For many of us, we recognize it enough to participate in parish life as ushers, or lectors, or musicians, or GOF table leaders, and so on.
But what struck me this week is how casually I forget that in my daily life. I pray that today's readings inspire us to reflect often on the depth of our poverty so that when we kneel down to give thanks to God, our prayer starts and ends with: "Much obliged".