The National Catholic Review

The past weekend was particularly busy, with things expected – soccer games and preparing for an upcoming lecture – and unexpected – spending six hours on Saturday trying to find the loose connection that would restore power to half of our house. I wanted to write on the readings for October 10, but ran out of time. I like to comment on the Sunday readings at least a day or two in advance, but I realized that I still wanted to comment on these readings from the Sunday past however late I am.

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“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:8-9) – whenever I read this passage I think of “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers. The song itself is about yearning for a love lost, or distant, but it was originally written for a prison film Unchained, so the connection to Paul bound in chains is at least peripherally present. More significantly, though, is Paul’s claim that even though he might be in chains, the Word of God knows no bounds, chains or restraint. It goes wherever it chooses. In the song, the hunger for the touch of the lover is made demonstrably clear. Do we hunger for the touch of the Word of God in the same way? Or do we acknowledge our hunger for the touch of the Word of God even when it reaches us?

The first and second readings for October 10, 2 Kings 5:14-17 and Luke 17:11-19, speak of the unchained nature of the Gospel, its ability to go wherever it is needed and to touch those most in need. Naaman, “commander of the army of the king of Aram” (2 Kings 5:1), is healed in the waters of the Jordan “at the word of Elisha, the man of God” (5:14) Even though Naaman had great worldly success, he still suffered from leprosy. The prophet Elisha did not go directly to Naaman, which actually enraged him (5:11-12), but passed on the message, which his servants convince him to obey (5:13). When Naaman, a foreigner, obeys the prophet of God Elisha, he is made clean. He desires to take earth from Israel back to Syria in order to worship God on his own Land (5:17). Jesus would later point to Naaman as an example of God’s power present throughout the world and not tied to a particular people or place (Luke 4:27).    

In the Gospel reading from Luke 17:11-19, Jesus enacts a healing similar to that of Naaman, yet in a more powerful way, cleansing ten lepers including one Samaritan. Upon being healed, simply by having faith in God’s word spoken by Jesus, the Samaritan comes back to Jesus to praise God and thank Jesus. The other lepers were also healed upon showing themselves to the priests, and it is not clear that they are not grateful for their healing, but “none of them {was} found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner" (17:18). Why? Is it perhaps the sense of joy that is associated with the unexpected, the “unchained” nature of the Word of God which surprises the foreigner unaccustomed to experiencing God’s mercy? Are we prepared to be surprised, to be overjoyed by the “unchained” Gospel which comes to us and to those we least expect? Do we hunger for the touch?

 John W. Martens