Sunday, October 13, 2013

Claiming Your Free Upgrade

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Picture: cc Jack Zalium

Sisters and brothers, have you ever received a free upgrade? Some days ago, I went to a local coffee-shop and ordered myself a small cup of tea. But it happened that the shop was having a promotion. So, even though I had asked for a small cup, my order was upgraded to a large one. And at no extra charge. I got a free upgrade. It was a pleasant surprise. More tea for me. And for the same fee.

But still, as free upgrades go, that’s a very minor one. I’m sure at least some of us here have received far more major upgrades than that, right? How about airline upgrades, for example. You know how you may book an Economy seat on an airplane. But when you get to the airport, you’re thrilled to discover that the airline has given you a seat in Business, or even in First Class, instead. And at no extra charge. Now that’s pretty major, don’t you think? I haven’t experienced it myself. But I can imagine how happy I would be to receive an upgrade like that. And what a pity it would be if I was chosen for such an upgrade but, for some reason, were to fail to take advantage of it. Imagine spending a whole long-haul flight crammed elbow to elbow in Economy, when I could be lounging in comfort in First Class. And all because I didn’t realise that I was being upgraded.

The joy of receiving a free upgrade. And the sorrow of wasting it. Sisters and brothers, as strange as it may sound, this is what I think our Mass readings are inviting us to consider today. I say it may sound strange, because, at first glance, our readings appear to be only about people being healed of their leprosy. Nothing more. In the first reading, there is one leper who is cleansed. And, in the gospel, there are ten. But, when we look more closely, we discover something else. In addition to cleansing, our readings also speak to us about salvation. In our response to the psalm just now, for example, we proclaimed that the Lord has shown his salvation to the nations.

But salvation is a very big word. We hear it and perhaps even use it often enough. But what does it actually mean? How does God save us? How does God show us his salvation? We find a clue in the second reading, where St. Paul writes about the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it. This makes things a little clearer for us. To be saved is not just to be healed of our illnesses. Even a terrible disease like leprosy. Salvation is something much more. To receive salvation is nothing less than to enjoy eternal glory in God. It is to experience the fullness of life that comes from knowing God. The same God who has come among us in Christ Jesus our Lord. The same Lord, who shows us how much God loves us. Even to the extent of laying down his own life for us. And while we were still sinners.

If all this is true, sisters and brothers–if salvation consists in knowing God, in entering into, and nurturing, an intimate relationship with God–then we can understand a little better what is happening to those lepers in our readings today. In the first reading, Naaman the Syrian has travelled all the way to Israel, to beg the prophet Elisha to heal him of his leprosy. And he gets what he asks for. He is cleansed of his disease. But that’s not all. In addition, Naaman also receives something far more significant. Notice what he tells Elisha after he is cleansed: Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. In addition to being cleansed, Naaman also comes to know the One True God. He receives salvation. The leper had asked only for a healing. But God gives him something more. God heals him and grants him eternal life. Eternal salvation. Now that, sisters and brothers, is a major upgrade. Don’t you think?

But not all lepers who are cleansed receive the same free upgrade. In the gospel, even though all ten lepers are healed, it is only the Samaritan who hears Jesus say to him, your faith has saved you. Ten lepers are cleansed. But only one is saved. Only one receives the free upgrade. Why? Is it because God is very selective? Offering the upgrade to some and not to others? Probably not. More likely, God does offer salvation to the others as well. But they just fail to take advantage of it. They are happy to settle for the exact thing they were asking for. And nothing more. They don’t realise that God is offering them something far more significant. Something far more important. Isn’t this why, when the Samaritan leper returns to thank him, Jesus laments the absence of the others? Were not all ten made clean? Weren’t all ten offered the same free upgrade? The other nine, where are they? What a pity. They could have enjoyed eternal salvation. They could have travelled First Class. But they missed their chance.

And what about us, sisters and brothers. We may not be lepers. We may not have been healed of incurable or chronic diseases. But isn’t it true that all of us have received, and continue to receive, many blessings from God? Many of these blessings we may even have prayed for specifically. And others, God has just seen fit to shower upon us without us even asking. Blessings such as our very existence. The fact that we are alive. The fact that we have people who care for us. The fact that we have been baptised into the faith. And belong to this community. The fact that we live in a place like Singapore. Where we can gather freely to worship in public.

Sisters and brothers, whether we care to admit or not, like those lepers in our readings today, we too have received many gifts from God. And could it be that, in each and every one of these gifts, God is actually offering to us the very same thing that was offered to the lepers? A free upgrade from temporal blessings to eternal salvation. The opportunity to enjoy an intimate relationship with a loving and compassionate God. A God who has come near to us especially in Christ Jesus our Lord. But what do we have to do to claim this free upgrade for ourselves? Our readings offer us some suggestions.

The first is gratitude. Notice how both the Syrian and the Samaritan  come to be saved. In contrast to the other nine lepers, who care only about claiming their own healing. The two foreigners are somehow able, even in the excitement of realising that they have been cleansed, also to spare a thought for the One who had cleansed them. They have the presence of mind to consider not just the precious gift they have received, but also, more importantly, the generous Giver from whom they have received it. And this gratitude leads them to do a second thing. They are each moved to worship God. In the gospel, we’re told that the Samaritan turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. And, in the first reading, the Syrian tells Elisha that he will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.

But that’s not all. In addition to gratitude and worship, our readings offer us one other suggestion for claiming the gift of salvation. We find it in the second reading. Where St. Paul speaks about his willingness to bear all manner of hardships. Even to the extent of being chained. Only so that he can proclaim God’s good news of salvation to all. What is Paul writing about, sisters and brothers, if not his eagerness to walk the same road that Jesus walked. Remember how the gospel today begins by telling us that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. He was walking the Way of the Cross. And Paul is following him. As His disciple.

Gratitude, worship and discipleship. These, sisters and brothers, are the three necessary steps that we need to take to receive the gift of salvation. To accept the intimate hand of friendship that God continues to offer us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sisters and brothers, what do you need to do to claim your free upgrade today?

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