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Homily notes: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C, 13 October

Fr Brendan Byrne SJ  |  03 October 2019

The connection between the First Reading, from 2 Kings 5:14-17 and the Gospel, Luke 17:11-19, set for today is fairly clear.

Both depict a person who has been cured from skin complaint returning to acknowledge and give thanks to God. [The disease in each case is traditionally referred to as leprosy. However, it is now recognised that the terms used in the original languages could refer to a variety of ailments of the skin. A sensitive preaching of today’s readings will avoid speaking about ‘lepers’.]

What a pity, however, that the First Reading does not give us the full account of the cure of Naaman the Syrian, since it is surely one of the most attractive stories emerging from the Old Testament – one which Jesus himself alludes to in his inaugural preaching at Nazareth according to Luke 4:27.

It would be good to read the entire narrative in 2 Kings 5:1-17. Naaman is a great and powerful general. He wants to be cured and has his own ideas as to how the cure should come about. He is enraged when the prophet Elisha doesn’t even bother to come out of his house to meet him but simply sends out a message telling him to bathe seven times in the river Jordan. How sensible and touching the advice of the general’s servants: ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ (v. 13).

When Naaman swallows his pride and follows the instruction of the prophet, his flesh is restored ‘like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean’ (v. 14).

Confession of faith

This is where the part of the episode set out in the Lectionary comes in. Naaman returns to the prophet’s house, stands before him and makes his confession of faith in Israel’s God. Not only has he been cured of his physical ailment. He has undergone a profound conversion. He has abandoned his preconceived ideas about the cure. He has put aside his national pride and submitted to the dictates of the Israelite prophet. Above all, this had led him to a knowledge of Israel’s God as the only God of the whole earth.

Only one more thing does Naaman have to learn. No gifts in return – either to God or God’s prophet – are required or accepted. Israel’s God distributes favours with absolute freedom and generosity. The one thing necessary is grateful acknowledgment.

It is on this point, of course, that the Naaman story is at one with the healing episode told in the Gospel.

On Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, 10 persons afflicted with a skin complaint cry out to Jesus for mercy, keeping their distance as the Law obliged them to do. All 10 are made clean when they follow Jesus’ instructions to go and show themselves to the priest (see Lev. 13:49).

For nine of them that is where the matter ends. But the tenth, who happens to be a Samaritan, returns loudly praising God. When he prostrates himself before Jesus and thanks him, Jesus remarks on the absence of the other nine. None of them had returned to give praise to God except this ‘stranger’!

Once again in this Gospel, as earlier in the famous parable (Luke 10:29-37) the audience is confronted with a “good Samaritan”. The appropriate behaviour of the foreigner, the one on the margins, has shown up the shortcomings of those more centrally placed in the Jewish society of the time.


It is only this one who receives from Jesus the assurance: ‘Stand up and go on your way; your faith has brought you salvation’. We have here a precious indication of the meaning of ‘salvation’ in Luke’s Gospel.

The other nine, of course, experienced healing in a physical sense. But they did not really experience ‘salvation’ in the full sense. Beyond physical healing or rescue, salvation for Luke above all means coming to know God in a new way as a God who saves, and being transformed by that knowledge. The Samaritan who returns to give thanks really comes to the ‘knowledge of salvation’ hymned in Zechariah’s Benedictus canticle (1:77).

Summons to conversion

As so often, Luke’s gospel compels its hearers to confront the human tendency to categorise and place labels on people. Here one who is doubly marginal – by reason of his illness, by reason of his ethnic background – shows himself more disposed to really know Israel’s God and so experience salvation. The episode is not just about the healing of an afflicted person. For all else involved, including ourselves, it is a summons to conversion.

In the Second Reading, 2 Tim 2:8-13, Paul bases his encouragement of Timothy to bear hardships on what appears to be an early hymn to Christ.



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