Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time • Year C

William J. Donnelly, O.S.A.
Saint John Stone Friary
Villanova, Pennsylvania

2 Kings 5:14-17
Psalm 98:1-4
2 Tim 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

Do you have a memory of the first book that sparked your imagination, touched your heart, lifted your spirits? Maybe you have forgotten that first read or wished that you would soon discover such a book.

One of my blessings is to have read The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, who won a Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1932. Her parents were Presbyterian Missionaries in China exposing her to the life and rhythm of the Chinese communities.

Buck’s novel speaks with reverence for the land. She presents a perspective on the environment that many would appreciate. The author’s central focus is on the Lung family as they live their journey from poverty to wealth and then their return to their roots. It is clear that the author has captured with sensitivity the family’s daily routine of life. They are seekers of healing living through a pilgrimage that reveals their dignity.

The story of Naaman, in the reading from the Book of Kings, is about a Syrian commander living with leprosy, an ancient incurable disease. Naaman, along with the ten lepers in the Gospel, was required to live in isolation, a radical lifestyle filled with uncertainty and often lived in anger. Each of the “unclean” as they were called were pleading for a miracle.

In the Book of Kings, Naaman is informed by his wife that her servant girl, captured during a raid on Israel, knows of the prophet Elisha, a miracle worker. I admire Naaman, who was humble enough to listen to the voice of a Jewish slave girl. Maybe he was just so desperate that he would do anything, even go on pilgrimage to foreign country in search of healing. His challenge was to believe and trust.

Upon meeting Elisha, he is directed to wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman felt that he had been insulted. After all, his country’s rivers were greater, maybe even the greatest of rivers, certainly greater than Jordan. Why wash in a minor river? What was being asked was nonsense. Naaman’s heart was hardened and his humility had evaporated at that moment. Intending to leave, Naaman’s companions encouraged him to fulfill the directive, trust the prophet Elisha. Wrestling with the advice of his companions, Naaman agreed. Following their advice, Naaman probably sang “alleluia” or some similar song of rejoicing when he realized that he was healed.

Returning home, Naaman asks for two mule-loads of the “good earth,” earth the foundation from which God has created Adam and Eve, blessing everyone with the gift of being created in “Image and Likeness of God.” Naaman’s dignity is revealed with the healing waters of the Jordan. Likewise, the ten lepers were reunited with their family and community celebrating their dignity. Can we see a parallel meaning in our baptism? Washing may not have happened in a river, but it is an image of cleansing, an experience that celebrates our dignity.

The story of Naaman and Pearl Buck’s book about a Chinese family pilgrimage through poverty to healing still resonates deeply within me. Why? Pearl Buck adopted mixed-race children fathered in Asia by US servicemen, an awareness of discrimination that she discovered through her lived experience in China.

Elisha brought healing to a non-Jew – something unexpected. Both scriptural readings from Sunday reveal the universal dignity of God’s gift of life to every person.

God does not discriminate.