|2 Kgs 5:14-17
||Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
||2 Tm 2:8-13
Discipleship: to heal and to save
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings challenge our idea of salvation.
In the first reading from the second book of Kings, God heals the Syrian Naaman’s leprosy through the prophet Elisha’s word. Elisha refuses Naaman’s gift because Naaman’s healing is from God, not from Elisha. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Naaman’s cure of leprosy, his thanksgiving, and his faith all have parallels in today’s gospel story of the ten lepers.
The second reading from the second letter to Timothy presents a summary of Paul’s teachings (2 Tim 2: 8), followed by an ancient Christian hymn (2 Tim 2: 9-13). The hymn tells us that through baptism Christians die spiritually with Christ and hope to live with him and reign with him forever.
In Luke’s gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Luke reiterates that Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem when he encounters the lepers, presumably a mix of Jews (from Galilee) and Samaritans (from Samaria). Here are the key points:
- Leprosy and Mosaic Law: The Hebrew and Greek words traditionally translated as “leprosy” describe a variety of skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and seborrhea, but not Hansen’s disease (modern “leprosy.”) Under Mosaic law (Lv 14), anyone who showed evidence of “leprosy” was considered unclean and could not live in the community. This is why the lepers are “outside the village.” Both Jews and Samaritans followed the same Mosaic laws concerning purity and leprosy.
- Encountering Jesus: Seeing Jesus, the lepers call out “have mercy on us.” Jesus tells them to “show yourselves to the priests” to fulfill Mosaic law. On their way to see the priests, the lepers are healed. The Greek word σώζω (SOHd-zoh) means both “to heal” and “to save.”
- Thanksgiving and faith: Realizing he is healed/saved, one man returns, glorifying God and thanking Jesus. Luke notes that the returning man was a Samaritan–a non-Jew and a Jewish enemy. Jesus tells the man, “Go, your faith has saved you.”
- Meanings: First, faith in Jesus saves. This story follows last week’s teachings on faith and discipleship (Lk 17: 1-10)–especially the disciples’ request to “Increase our faith.” Luke uses the leper’s cure to demonstrate faith-in-action. Second, Jesus saves those from all nations. The Greek word ἀλλογενής (ahl-loh-geh-NAYS), here translated as “stranger,” literally means “those outside the family.” Luke uses the Samaritan leper’s healing to show that faith supersedes ethnicity and religion. Faith, and therefore salvation, is open to all people.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our understanding of saving/healing. God heals/saves Naaman even though he is a Syrian and worships Baal. Jesus heals/saves the ten lepers even though not all of them are Jewish. Although nine do not return to glorify God and thank Jesus, Jesus does not take away their healing. God’s healing/saving is a gift without strings, open to all. Do we offer our healing and salvation to all who ask our mercy, or do we limit our healing and saving only to those we know or only to those who appreciate it?
||Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Discipleship: discerning costs and rewards
Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week Jesus continues to teach about the challenges of discipleship.
The first reading is from the book of Wisdom. First century Christians read the Hebrew wisdom writings and recognized Jesus as the “incarnation of the wisdom of God.” Paul, John, and the Synoptic gospels describe Jesus’ divine wisdom in several places. The Lectionary pairs this reading with today’s gospel teaching on leaving all to obtain God’s wisdom and eternal life.
The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews concludes last week’s discussion about Jesus as God’s son. Earlier the author wrote about the efficacy of scripture. He now plays on the phrase “word of God,” meaning both scripture and Jesus. In the author’s community, believers have become bored and indifferent to their faith. He warns community that scripture and Jesus reveal each person’s thoughts and intent (“discern thoughts and the heart’s reflections”).
In the gospel, Jesus and his disciples continue “on the way;” Jesus gives further teaching about “the way” of discipleship. Today’s reading contains three interconnected stories: the rich young man, the camel and the needle, and a teaching on the rewards of discipleship.
- Story of the rich young man. “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” For Jews of Jesus’ time, the answer was to follow the Mosaic law. This man, however, seems to be looking for something more. Jesus comment “No one is good but God” invites the man to reflect on Jesus’ goodness. Does the man recognize God’s goodness in Jesus? Jesus challenges the would-be disciple: “You lack one thing–sell what you have and follow me.” In Jesus’ society, family, home, and land were a person’s most precious possessions. Jesus invitation to discipleship asks the man to become as dependent on God as a child (see last week’s reading). The man can’t give up his earthly security; he passes on Jesus’ invitation to follow him.
- Story of the camel and needle. Jesus’ point is that earthly wealth breeds spiritual complacency. To “be saved,” to “enter the kingdom,” and to gain “eternal life” all mean the same thing. “Impossible for humans,” Jesus says, but with God “all things are possible.” The kingdom is beyond human achievement, it is neither a right nor a reward; it is God’s gift.
- Teaching on the rewards of discipleship. Jesus promises anyone who gives up family, home, and land (and accepts persecution) for his sake and the sake of the good news will receive those things and more a hundred times over. For disciples, persecution is not a maybe but how–state-sponsored pogroms, social ostracism, public mockery, familial rejection–discipleship includes these.
With RCIA catechumens and candidates, each of us asks: Is discipleship worth it? Like the rich man, we long for a completeness the world cannot give but we are still attracted to human riches and the seeming security they promise. We can’t earn “the kingdom,” “eternal life,” or “God’s wisdom”–these are God’s gifts, freely given to those who choose to follow Jesus on the way. Only when we become as dependent on God as children (“to such as these the kingdom belongs”) will we understand discipleship. Can we let go of our illusion of earthly security long enough to see reality of God’s wisdom?