My friends, it seems that we are often called to “faith” in the Scripture readings given us to reflect on each week. Faith, we can then assume, must be very important in our walk with our brother Jesus to be mentioned so many times.
Therefore, it is important to have a working definition of just what, “faith” is in order to reflect on, talk about, and determine why it is so important. Very simply, “faith” is believing in something or someone for which we don’t have the “whole story,” we might say, yet we believe anyway.
We might also say that every belief system, Christianity included, has aspects about it that just can’t be known, yet again, people believe anyway. This is curious, and probably the only way to make sense of it all is to look within ourselves and ask, what we believe and why we believe it.
Those who look at the world in a rather, “black and white” way are prone to say, by way of explanation, not, what “faith is,” but what it is not. They might tell you, “If you doubt” that something is “true,” then you are lacking in that elusive quality, faith.
Someone wise once said, “the opposite of faith, is not doubt, but “certainty.” Therefore, if we know something to be “certain,” we have no need of faith. Dan Schutte, composer, and presenter of much, faith-filled music has said, “Faith is a matter of heart and mind.”
I believe it is important that he began with “heart,” instead of, “mind,” because going through the heart first, it seems to me, allows us, more readily, to accept what may not be clear at first glance. Example: “Jesus rose from the dead.” If I were to ask each of you, if you believe, in fact, that, “Jesus rose from the dead,” you would probably say, “Yes, I believe that!” And this may be true for a number of reasons, among them, the fact that you have heard this all your life and don’t question it, or, on some spiritual level, you do really believe.
Now if we were to come at this tenet of our faith through our minds first, we would have to deny the legitimacy of the claim as we have nothing in our “black and white” world to compare it to. Dan Schutte has shared in the past his gratitude to religious sisters and priests along the way who taught him to question. He put it this way: “Don’t leave your brain at the door of the church.” Too many present day, church “leaders” are wont to have us do just that—disconnect our brains and just accept rules and regulations that, for the most part, are meant to “keep us in line,” rather than grow in our faith. “Doubting” something my friends, is really a challenge to make us grow.
Perhaps the reason that only one leper returned to Jesus to say, “thank you” for their cure, in today’s gospel was because of looking at the gift they received in a very “black and white” way, through their minds alone. Looking through their hearts would have opened up so much more—love, gratitude, and ultimately, “faith” in something they couldn’t totally understand.
And the added piece which this gospel doesn’t address, is that the “cured one,” looking through their heart, loving the giver of so great a gift, can go out and do likewise for others. Looking to the first reading from Kings in the story of Naaman, a non-Israelite, cured of leprosy by the prophet, Elisha, we see this more expansive response when the gift given is reflected upon through the heart first, rather than the mind. And in order to totally understand Naaman’s response to being cured, a bit of explanation is necessary.
Naaman shows us the way when he sees what has happened—he praises the God of Elisha and takes it up a notch, wanting to gift Elisha for his goodness, his compassion toward him. Because Elisha will take no reward for what God has called him to do, Naaman makes a strange request—that he be given two mule loads of earth. It makes sense though, you see, when we learn that Naaman not only chooses to now follow and believe in Elisha’s God, but he wants to take some of the ground of Israel back to his own country where upon it (the ground) he can praise this God who was so gracious and compassionate as to cure him of his affliction. A true “faith” response should always move us to, “pass it forward,” as it were—to do good to others as good has been done for us.
If we are truly responding in faith to life around us, there should always be “growth.’ The action should never be just about us. In Paul’s letter to Timothy we hear this truth in another way— “there is no chaining the Word of God[!]” And Paul goes on. [Even]if we are unfaithful, Christ will still remain faithful [to us].
Our whole journey in this human experience that each of us has is about striving, evermore completely to follow Jesus, the Christ in our walk of faith rather than that of the nine lepers who took the gift and ran.
One final thought that I would raise for us to reflect on is something that Jesus thought important to say in his time and therefore it would be good for us to consider as well. It seems that the “cured one” who returned was a Samaritan—a cultural and social outcast in the minds of most law-abiding Jews in Jesus’ time. Is it possible that “good” can be found in the likes of a Samaritan, Jesus seems to be asking. In our own time, who are the “Samaritans” that we may not accept, trust, or want to reach out to in faith? —immigrants, Native peoples in our own country, women, LGBTQ+ folks. Faith, my friends, calls us into areas of “doubt” if it is the true article.
In conclusion then, there are no assurances, but faith will lead to some awesome places if we can let go of our need for certainty and our response to this new-found freedom is likely to be that of the one, returning leper—now cured—gratitude. Amen? Amen!