Saturday, October 12, 2019

Between the Keychain & the Computer

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Picture: cc David Erickson

My dear friends, have you ever received a gift that you did not use? Or didn’t use fully? Someone once gave me a keychain, with a cute little statue of the patron of our parish – St Ignatius of Loyola – attached to it. And I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it was only much later that I discovered what that keychain was for. When its base was removed, the statue could be plugged into a computer and used to store data. It was a thumb-drive! I could, of course, continue to use it as nothing more than a keychain. But what a waste that would be, right?

Actually, I’ve since come to see that that keychain is not the only thing I fail to use fully. The same is true of my smartphone too, for example, or my computer. Each of these gadgets has many functions that I do not use. Some of which I haven’t even discovered. And what about you, my dear friends? Have you ever received a gift that you didn’t use fully? I ask because, in our Mass readings too, a gift is given that’s not fully used. And the reason it’s not fully used is because it’s easily mis-recognised. Much like how I mistook the thumb-drive as nothing more than a keychain.

At first glance, the most obvious gift we find in our readings is that of healing. In both the first reading and the gospel, lepers are cured of their terrible disease. And we can, of course, choose to focus our attention on this remarkable gift. Which, in itself, can be a great source of comfort and encouragement, especially to those of us afflicted by serious illnesses of our own, or who may know people suffering in this way.

But what is not as obvious is that the gift offered in our readings goes far beyond the healing of diseased bodies. We see this perhaps most clearly in what Jesus says to the one who returns to give thanks. The Lord begins by asking, were not all ten made clean? And he ends by declaring, your faith has saved you. Notice the difference in the verbs used in the question at the beginning and the declaration at the end.

For Jesus, ten lepers were made clean, but only one is saved. To put it another way, beyond the healing of their diseased bodies, all ten lepers were offered the gift of salvation, the gift of fullness of life. But only one of them was able to claim it. The other nine were so focused on the physical cure, they missed the less obvious but far more precious gift. We might say that, like me, they took such delight in the keychain, they failed to recognise the thumb-drive hidden within it.

But what does this spiritual thumb-drive look like? What does it mean to be saved, to enjoy the fullness of life? This is where our readings again prove very helpful. For they show us at least three characteristics of those who are saved. Or three steps, if you like, for claiming the gift of salvation.

The first step is perhaps the most obvious. It is gratitude. The same gratitude expressed by both the Syrian, Naaman, in the first reading, and the unnamed Samaritan in the gospel. When each of these men realises that he has been cured, he is able to do something that’s not easy to do. At least not for me. Unlike the other nine lepers, both are able to allow their attention to be shifted away from themselves to the one who has blessed them, the one who has gifted them. Before going home to Syria, Naaman takes the trouble to return to Elisha. Before going to ask the priests to certify his cleansing, the Samaritan goes back to the Lord to say thank you.

But that’s not all. I say thank you everyday to various people who help me. This is the polite thing to do. It’s what I’ve been taught to do since childhood. But I don’t do what the two grateful lepers do. Unlike the Samaritan in the gospel, when I thank the auntie who clears my table at the foodcourt, I don’t throw myself down at her feet. Such an action is far more than a polite expression of gratitude. It is in fact an act of worship. And worship is also what Naaman promises to do after he returns to Syria. He pledges to dedicate his whole life in devoted service to the one true God, because he realises that there is no other.

Gratitude expressed in wholehearted worship of the one true God. These are the first two characteristics of salvation. The third characteristic is found in something else that Jesus tells the grateful leper. Stand up and go on your way… Of course,  the Lord may simply be telling the leper to move on. But notice how the reading begins by reminding us that Jesus himself is on the way… Perhaps it’s not too far-fetched then for us to think that Jesus is inviting the leper to take up his own cross, and to follow the Lord on the way to Jerusalem. The Lord is calling the leper to discipleship, to become what St Paul has become in the second reading. Someone who willingly bears his own hardships for the sake of the Good News, even to being chained like a criminal.

Gratitude, worship, and discipleship. These are the three characteristics of salvation that we find in our readings today. These are the three steps we need to take in order to claim the great gift of salvation offered to us in Christ. And these are also the things that should really characterise our own celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday. For here, we recall the many gifts we have received, and for which we can be grateful. Above all, the loving sacrifice of Christ for all our sakes. Here, in bread and wine, we unite ourselves to the offering of Christ, in an act of fitting worship. Here, we commit ourselves to lives of true discipleship. Lives in which we allow ourselves to be moulded into the Body of Christ, willing to be broken in love for the sake of a world fragmented by selfishness and sin.

Unfortunately, it’s too easy for me to approach the Eucharist with far less reverence than it truly deserves. It’s too easy for me to treat the Eucharist as I would a cute inconsequential little ornament on which to hang my keys. And so to miss the gift of salvation hidden within what looks like nothing more than  a routine ritual.

Sisters and brothers, there is a wonderful gift hidden in this weekly celebration of ours. What must we do, you and I, to better recognise it and to connect it to the rest of our lives, as we might a thumb-drive to a computer today?

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