Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, October 9, 2016
Naaman was army commander of a tribe that was a rival of Israel. He had leprosy, and by a strange series of events, he came to Israel's prophet Elisha for a cure.
The senior apostle Paul writes from prison to the junior church leader Timothy. By way of encouraging Timothy, Paul quotes an early Christian hymn.
Jesus continues to make his way to Jerusalem, where death and resurrection await him. He praises the faith of someone not a member of the fold.
The Liturgical Context, The Whole Literary Context: Today's gospel, Luke 17:11-19, shows Jesus marveling again at the faith displayed by non-believers, compared to the faith shown by Jesus' own people. The first reading, if an assembly has the good fortune to hear it in context, is a perfect introduction to the gospel. Let the lector start by both reading the gospel and mastering the first reading's context, studying all of The Second Book of Kings, chapter 5. I urge the lector to persuade the presider that you should proclaim, at Sunday mass, verses 1 through 19 of chapter five, and not just begin at the end. (The superficial similarities between first reading and gospel are the references to the curing of leprosy and to gratitude. But the subtler and more important issues in both readings are where is the real God, where is real faith to be found, and what is the scope of God's care.)
The Theological Background: Here's why Naaman ("NAY mun" or "NAY uh mun") wanted two mule-loads of earth from the territory of the prophet Elisha ("ell LISH uh", not to be confused with his mentor Elijah). Most people at this time had a crude, physical, territorial notion of divinity. It was just understood that one god governed the land of Aram, and another god held sway over the territory of Israel, and so on. If you wanted to worship the god of Israel, you had to go to that god's turf. But if you could take some of Israel's soil with you, you could dump it on the ground anywhere, stand on it, and worship the god of Israel from there.
Your Proclamation: Tell this vivid story like you would tell any story full of conflicts, mistrust, pathos, self-righteousness, conversion of heart, and surprise. Exaggerate the pettiness of the king of Israel, who suspects the king of Aram of picking a fight. Do the same for Naaman, when makes a chauvinistic comparison of the Jordan to the rivers of his homeland. Make Elisha sound supremely confident.
The Historical and Literary Considerations: In the church at Ephesus, Timothy held an office that would evolve into that of a bishop. Paul, senior apostle now in prison, loved his young friend of long standing and one-time missionary companion. Today's passage is part of Paul's encouragement to Timothy. It's not a structured theological treatise, but more a collection of pithy sayings designed to bolster Timothy. Note that Paul is not too modest to cite his own experiences if that's what the disciple needs to know.
The Lector's Proclamation: Shout triumphantly Paul's defiant statement: "The word of God is not chained." Emphasize, too, Paul's reason for enduring all this, "so that they [we] too may attain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory."
Note the hymnic structure of the last eight clauses. This was probably a hymn well known in Timothy's church. While I'm not advocating that you chant it from the lectern Sunday, do respect its meter. Perhaps you remember the setting of this by Lucien Deiss, from the 1960's or so. Deiss used these as some of the verses for "Keep in Mind." Even if you don't remember that, if you are at all musical, try to imagine how this would sound set to music. Then let that mental music control the cadence, contrasts, pauses and emphases in your proclamation.
My choice of this photo is an admittedly poor play on the words in today's second reading, "But the word of God is not chained." There was a time in Western history when those with books wanted to share them, but couldn't quite trust the public to leave the books accessible to others. So they created what are now called chained libraries.
This excellent photo is the work of DorsetForYou, a service of several civic councils in Dorset, a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The original photo is here, on DorsetForYou's flickr page. Rights to reproduce the image are governed by this Creative Commons License.
Lector's Notes should be easily readable on any device, including small-screen ones like cell phones and tablets. This is among the first of a few hundred pages to be converted to a responsive format (responsive to the kind of screen you are using). So when you're not serving as lector, and you arrive at church and mute your cell phone, you can brief yourself on the readings you're about to hear. Format conversion is a work-in-progress and will be so until maybe April of 2018.
This page updated September 23, 2016