Last Sunday you may remember Jesus discussed with his disciples the matter of faith and assured them that even the tiniest amount of faith, tiny as a mustard seed, could do extraordinary things. And then Jesus went on to give a couple of parables but now he goes back to his teaching and continues his trip to Jerusalem and Luke tells us:
. . . he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, 10 lepers met him. Keeping their distance they called out their voices, saying, 'Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!' And when he saw them, he said, 'Go show yourselves to the priests.' Then as they went on their way, they found they were cured. One of them, as soon as he saw he was cleansed, turned back, praising God in a loud voice, and then throwing himself on his face at the feet of Jesus, he gave thanks to God. Now this one was a Samaritan, and Jesus asked him, 'Were not all 10 healed? Where are the other nine? Did none of them decide to return and give praise to Gog but this foreigner.' Then he said to him, 'Stand up, go your way; your faith has saved you.'
We've heard this Gospel lesson many times, I'm sure. And probably most of us -- I know it's true of me -- for the most part, think of it as kind of an urging to us to remember we ought to give thanks to God, probably every day, every minute of every day because God is always blessing us, and continues to keep us in existence. He's drawn us into existence out of love and continues, so we always ought to be in a posture of thanks to God.
That's true about this parable, that it does give us that reminder, but there's something more in this incident that connects with last Sunday and Jesus' assurance to his disciples about the importance of faith. Faith, of course, doesn't mean just giving assent to a list of doctrines. We stand up after the homily in Sunday Mass and we do exactly that: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth," and so on, and we list the doctrines that we give assent to. But that's not what Jesus is talking about.
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Faith is something more than simply an assent to certain teachings. It's really about our relationship with God; that's what faith is about. When Jesus told his disciples last Sunday that if they had just a tiny bit of faith, then they could say to a mountain, "Move," and it would go. He made an almost unbelievable claim for the power of faith. But the power of faith, if we understand it correctly, can bring about extraordinary change in every one of us.
If all of us really acted on our faith and deepened our relationship with God, marvelous things would happen as we, disciples of Jesus, continue to work to transform our world into the reign of God. But how does faith come forth in this incident in the Gospel today? Well, as we hear at the end of the story, the one man was a foreigner, a Samaritan. When he, together with the other nine, was following up the command of Jesus to go to the temple, see the priests, and be confirmed that they had been healed, he would have had to make a choice because at that time, the Samaritans and the Jews were enemies to one another.
We know the story of the Good Samaritan -- how the one who would not pass by the person injured on the road was a Samaritan and exposed the hypocrisy of the Chosen people -- the priest and the Levite who had passed by. The Samaritans were enemies of the Jews, and yet, Jesus often uses them to show us what is true faith in relationship to God. In this instance then, the Samaritan would have had to make a choice because to go see the priests, Jesus probably would have been talking about the temple at Jerusalem, but the Samaritans had their own temple at Mount Gerizim.
So he would have had to say at some point, as the 10 of them were going along, "Jerusalem or Gerizim? Jesus meant Jerusalem; shall I go there?" Well, what happens, he must have had an extraordinary insight and came to realize that God was not present either in any special way in the temple at Gerizim or Jerusalem. Where was God present? In Jesus. He comes back and he worships Jesus; he falls at his feet and gives thanks. The words that he uses mean thanks and adoration for God.
He recognizes God isn't necessarily in the temple at Jerusalem, the temple at Gerizim, or any other particular place. God is present in our world in Jesus. That's the insight that he has, so he realizes that now he must follow Jesus -- this is the Son of God. Now if we began to have that same kind of faith, that we would really come here every week to church, understanding that it's not this place where we meet Jesus, but it's in the Word and in the sacrament that we receive.
Jesus is present in this Word of God that we hear every week and we reflect on. Jesus becomes present in the bread and wine, which we receive as his body and blood. We come here to meet Jesus if we come in a true spirit of faith. So I hope that from this story today, we will recognize that, yes, we must give thanks to God as the Samaritan man does, but what's far more important is that we must begin to deepen our relationship with God -- our relationship with God, which means our faith, our awareness that God is present in Jesus, and we meet God in Jesus in one another, in the Word, and in the sacrament every day, every week.
There we deepen that relationship with God; we will become transformed more like Jesus, and then we can carry the message of Jesus into our world, by what we say, by what we do, how we live. It's so important to understand what this Samaritan man understood: God is present in Jesus when we meet Jesus in word or sacrament, and we nurture that relationship with Jesus, we are becoming more like him, and we are more capable of doing his work in our world. I hope as we continue to reflect on today's Scriptures that we will ask God, as the disciples did last week: increase our faith, deepen our relationship with God through Jesus, and help us to be faithful witnesses to Jesus that each one of us is called to be.
[This homily was given at St. Philomena, Detroit, Mich., Oct. 9. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]