Transformation from OK to Amazing, requires true gratitude: the “soil” of regular kind actions for others
At first glance, our first reading and Gospel emphasise the importance of gratitude. And that’s correct but a deeper, more important, message lies within: WHY be grateful?
What is revealed in each of our Readings is how we are called to TRANSFORMATION. Naaman, St Paul and the Samaritan were transformed from sickness to new life. It was feelings of gratitude that moved them to something better, at least psychologically if not physically.
How many of us are just going through the motions each day: kind of happy, but not really on fire? So, we look for pick-me ups: wine, “toys”, money or sex.
Nothing wrong with all of them (at the right time), unless they become the only way we feel ‘good’: then they make us sick, as we become slaves to pleasure and ignore the needs of others. A bit like the cycle of a drug or pornography addict.
To be transformed, to feel more alive and excited about life, we need to study the 1st Reading.
The Gospel reveals how it is the outsider (stranger/ visitor), who reveals how the ‘insiders’, like you and I, can take God for granted, or treat God like a MacDonalds takeaway shop: we order what we want and leave. We pay for and then ignore, until we want something again.
And, if McDonalds is not available, we go to Kentucky Fried Chicken or Dominos Pizza. We don’t care who gives to us: it’s about me. Perhaps that’s why our churches are emptying?
We no longer want a God who is our Father: who guides us and whom we want to spend time with. We want a sugar daddy who gives me what “I” want, and I want it now!
One of the key elements of gratitude is how it brings us to happily acknowledge we do not know everything, I am not able to fix myself. I need a higher wisdom in my life.
Human beings are only happy in companionship. Naaman tries to create this relationship with the God of Israel by carrying away the soil: not just a little (one mule), but a lot. The two mules might also reflect our physical and psychological dimensions to find happiness.
Naaman demonstrates to us the importance of having physical things we can feel, to help us make our relationship with God real. If not, our memories will fade and the relationship will also die, little by little.
What is the “soil” offered to us Christians, to help us strengthen our relationship with God?
I’m not denying the fact that our families are a way we encounter God but, what Naaman reveals to us, is the importance of having some outside “input” to enrich our lives.
Naaman, a foreigner to Israel, took the “soil of Israel” as a symbol for us.
As a family, are we involved in the local community (actually contributing)?
Is our community involved in the whole nation (actually contributing somehow)?
As a nation, are we involved in the local countries (actually helping); or are we using them?
Is our school just a place to take education? Or do we learn more (social/emotional) by giving?
Our local church is one form of soil: not because of the building (although that can be helpful =a sense of safety and beauty), but because of the community: we feel a sense of belonging.
As in any group, we don’t agree with everything everybody says (including the priest, sometimes!). But we feel we belong: I can speak freely and not be kicked out: people may disagree, but I’m still accepted (assuming I act in a polite manner and respect the other people).
The other key “soil” from a Christian perspective are the activities we do for others as a concrete expression of our deep gratitude for all we have received. Most healthy people over 40 years of age have probably learnt that true joy comes from empowering younger people, rather than accumulating more money and stuff for ourselves.
However, this type of “soil” is also very beneficial for younger people, who help/ encourage other younger people, or rescuing us “old” people when we fall down!
The feelings generated in our hearts, through our relationships as we empower others, is a taste of Heaven: it is gratitude in action. Despite all the hardships we are enduring right now (eg. St Paul in chains in prison), we can still touch Heaven in our daily lives. The leper who came back, experienced double joy: healing and blessing.
The final point Naaman and Elijah teach us today, is that we cannot pay for what we get from God like a business transaction: we can only “pay”, by giving back as a relationship.
For example: a person who receives a transplant heart usually wants a relationship with the donor’s family. The receiver has paid for the operation, but it’s not enough: =transformed.
Do we really express our gratitude? Or merely try to pay off the giver?
By Gerard Conlan, OMI