Sunday, October 10, 2010

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

There are many interesting issues raised in today’s Gospel –
concerning healing, gratitude and so forth –
but I want to begin with one question:
why is it that, when the ten lepers ask Jesus to heal them,
he tells them to go show themselves to the priests?
According to the book of Leviticus,
it was the role of the priests in the Temple
to examine those who had been afflicted
with the disease of Leprosy
in order to see if they had recovered,
so they could be re-admitted to the community of Israel.
When Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests,
he is telling them to do what the Law of God required them to do.
So perhaps we ought not to be so hard on the nine lepers who went on their way
without so much as a “thank you” to Jesus.
They were, after all, doing what was right
in the eyes of their religious tradition;
they were doing what was expected of them
as good Israelites.

But one leper came back. Why?
Well, he was a Samaritan.
As you may know, the Samaritans
were something like second-cousins to the Jews
who worshipped the God of Israel,
but did not worship at the Temple in Jerusalem
or accept the Temple priesthood.
What is surprising
is that he would have approached Jesus in the first place,
for at the time of Jesus there was a great deal of hostility
between Jews and Samaritans
and the fact that Samaritan
would have gone to a Jewish holy man for healing
can only be a sign of just how desperate he was.
But it is not surprising that he would have felt no great urgency
to fulfill Jesus’ command
to go show himself to the priests,
since Samaritans did not think much
of the priests in Jerusalem to begin with.
He knew that he was an outsider,
and that even now that he had been cleansed of his leprosy
he was still an outsider.
But being an outsider helped him to see
something that the insiders missed;
it allowed him to see that it was Jesus who had healed him
and it was to Jesus that he was to give thanks.

His nine fellow-lepers were so well schooled
in their traditions and customs
that they seem to have been blinded
to what God was actually doing in their midst.
They were so focused on religious business-as-usual
that they missed something truly extraordinary:
the kingdom of God present in the healing ministry of Jesus.
“Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
The insiders could benefit from the perspective of the outsider.

This valuing of the perspective of the outsider
is a theme that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Those who are not settled
within the well-worn patterns of religion and culture
bring to us fresh eyes with which to see
what God is doing in the world.
Prophets like Jeremiah seem deliberately
to make themselves outsiders
so as to better hear the Word of God.
This insight is an integral element
in the long-standing Catholic tradition
of openness to and advocacy for migrants and refugees.
In his 2003 Message on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees
Pope John Paul II called this openness part of,
“the Christian duty to welcome
whoever comes knocking out of need.”
In other words, it is nothing less than what we must do
if we wish to hear on the day of judgment:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:34-35).

But this openness is more than a matter
of simple Christian charity,
for we are called not simply to give to the outsider,
but also to receive from the outsider,
to receive from the outsider a fresh perspective
on ourselves, our world, and our God.
Pope John Paul went on in the same message to say,
“Such openness builds up vibrant Christian communities,
enriched by the Spirit with the gifts brought to them
by new disciples from other cultures.”
We cannot be complete without the other, the outsider,
who can see us in a way that we can never see ourselves.
In the foreigner who returns to give thanks,
who perceives God present
in a place we never thought to look,
we learn something new about ourselves and about God.

We have seen this in our own parish community,
in all that we have gained in the past few years
from our Filipino parishioners,
who have enriched us with their customs
and given us fresh eyes with which to see
what God is doing in the world.
They have helped our parish to become more Catholic,
more universal,
through the Missa de Gallo,
Our Lady of Perpetual Help,
and most of all their prayerful presence among us.

I believe it is particularly important
to recall our Catholic tradition
of openness to and advocacy for migrants and refugees,
and our Catholic belief that we are enriched
by those who come to us as outsiders,
as questions of immigration reform begin to come to the fore
in America’s political debates.
Immigration reform is a complex issue,
and I would not presume to suggest in this forum
how we should go about balancing
and concern for the common good
in the enacting of legislation.
People of good will can differ on these issues
and on details of various proposals.
These matters are complex and the correct solution is not always obvious.
But politics can get ugly,
and sometimes we can get ugly along with it.
Sometimes we can get locked into the framework of American politics
and forget that we are first of all Catholics.
But, as Paul reminds us in our second reading,
the word of God is not chained,
and today God's word reminds us that
there are some things that we as Catholics can never do.
We can never use the stranger in our midst as a political football
in order to gain an electoral victory.
We can never demonize those we perceive as outsiders
or to use them as scapegoats for a host of social problems.
We can never convince ourselves that we “insiders”
have nothing to learn,
nothing to gain,
in welcoming these “outsiders.”
We as Catholics can never forget
that Christ is to be found in the stranger that we welcome
and that it is sometimes the foreigner among us
who sees that to which we are blind,
who recalls to us what we have forgotten,
and who reminds us to return to give thanks to God.