Sunday, October 13, 2013

Bodily and Spiritual Grace

Reflections on the Readings
October 13, 2013 - 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Bodily and Spiritual Grace

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him; and he said, "Behold, I know that there is no god in all the earth but in Israel." - Naaman (2 Kings 5:15)

Instruments of Grace

"Let the Lord use you," daddy said. Those words of encouragement sent me on my way to my next preaching engagement as a very young 18 year old Pentecostal Evangelist. To hear those words rise up from the depth of memory remind me again how important it is to say, "Lord, use me." That's a simple prayer worth praying every day. Whenever we sense an opportunity to bring God's peace and love we can become a modern day Francis of Assisi and pray: "Lord make me an instrument of Your peace..."

First, let's get some background to Naaman's story. In one of his raids into Israel with the Syrian army, Naaman captured and took back with him a 'little maid' who became a servant to his wife. In time, noting the physical illness of leprosy in Naaman's body she proffered to her mistress, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of leprosy." Like Paul in today's second reading, she endures her suffering and separation from family with her dignity intact and her faith unfettered. The teaching of the faith of Israel is not chained in her captivity. She offers hope in the midst of her own despair, enduring everything for the sake of salvation and healing for her master who is in captivity to leprosy. The little maid's remark inspire Naaman's journey to meet with the Prophet, Elisha. 

This is where our first reading takes up the story. It was not easy for this great commander to take directions from someone else, much less, an Israelite, and a prophet to boot. So when the prophet did not personally greet him and perform some kind of spiritual hocus-pocus Naaman felt insulted - insulted for not having a personal audience with the prophet and insulted that he was directed to wash himself seven times in the Jordan river. Nothing hard; nothing overly exciting; nothing difficult to do except for Naaman's ego. Yet Elisha, a servant of grace, like the little maid in Naaman's house, points him in the direction where God will meet him. Grace, grace that is greater than his bodily or spiritual need, draws Naaman deeper into Israel's God, the God who brought them historically through those same waters and made them a new people. Naaman is himself made new in body and soul - all because a maid let God use her and a prophet who wasn't afraid of earthly powers. Such is the way of those who let God use them for the good of others - instruments of Grace.

Holy Ground

Naaman returned to Syria without his leprosy and with a new God. Rimmon, the chief god of Syria no longer commanded Naaman's allegiance. To demonstrate this, he returns to Syria with two carts filled with dirt from the land of Israel being pulled by mules. In this way Naaman is showing that he encountered the God of all nations in Israel. 

We are not told what Naaman did with this load of dirt. I can imagine he placed it where he could from time to time kneel on it and offer thanks for the little maid, and the prophet who pointed him in the right direction. And in his thanksgiving, he communed with the God who loved him and bathed not only his body, but his heart and soul. Naaman came back home a new man in more ways than one. Thus he lived out the rest of his days aware and always grateful that there was no god in all the earth like the God he encountered in Israel.

Always Grateful for the Grace

Only one of the ten lepers cleansed returns to give thanks. This lone foreigner, like Naaman, encounters the goodness of God. Kneeling before Jesus, this Samaritan bows on Holy Ground. Grateful words gush from his heart as he exclaims loudly his praise and thanksgiving. 

I appreciate silence. Moments of deep reflection and prayer appeal to me. But sometimes an overflowing heart, whether from a burden or a blessing has only one way out. Throughout the Bible there are numerous examples of people whose cup overflows and everybody knows it. Like these lepers that Jesus heals. They cried out, "Jesus, Master! Have mercy on us!" However, I wish I could have been there when that one returned to give thanks. I can see a smile spread across the face of Jesus. He alone is worthy, but he smiles not for himself, but for him whose entire life as a Samaritan and then as a leper was one long life of separation and humiliation. And in a moment, he is filled with every bodily and spiritual grace - only a loud exclamation would do!

Treasure in an Earthen Vessel

In the beginning of this Reflection, I told you dear reader about the words my daddy said to me. "Let the Lord use you!" daddy said with an inspiration I felt in the deepness of my being. I was suffering from a very painful benign tumor on my right tibia. Endless prayers for healing were prayed by me and for me. I didn't want to have surgery. But I was nearing the end of my resistance and had thought to cancel my weekend appointment to be the speaker for First Assembly of God, in Vincennes, Indiana. I thought I would just bail out and schedule the surgery.

Daddy didn't think it was a good idea. "You don't know what the Lord might do. The Lord might heal you if you keep the appointment to preach this revival. You should go and let the Lord use you!" Daddy encouraged. I kept the appointment taking my Bible and my aspirin bottle with me. So as I was preaching that first night, in the middle of my sermon, the pastor blurted out, "I'm healed! I'm healed," touching and pushing on his abdominal area. I learned then what he had been suffering from and why he was exclaiming his praise. As it turned out, the pastor was suffering from an intestinal hernia and was needing surgery to correct it.

I returned home and had my surgery. But for these past 40 years, I've been learning a very important lesson. We carry within these jars of clay the precious treasure of God's love and grace.  It is our calling to be instruments of that grace, and to be always grateful is to live in a holy place. Amen. 

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: 

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