Today’s accounts of the Syrian general Naaman and the Samaritan leper cleverly present the universality of salvation. God has opened the gates of heaven to whoever would enter with faith and gratitude. It is no surprise to God, or to us, that we come to Him most often in moments of need, as a “last resort.” Is that God’s preference? I suspect not, but He remains willing to entertain our concerns and to accept us where we are.
God wants our needs, but His deepest preference is to have our attention. Not that He needs to receive it from us; rather, we need to give it to Him. By our “attention,” I mean our fidelity in thought, word, and action, when times are difficult and when they are smooth, and every time in between. That God should have received such attention from foreigners may have startled the original audience of these readings, but not so much anymore; for we are all “foreigners” of a sort, all unexpected and unworthy invitees to the heavenly banquet.
The Lord eagerly awaits our response. St. Paul, apostle to the foreigners, reaffirms the value of the Gospel by appealing to his suffering and imprisonment for its sake. Paul has responded to the Lord’s invitation through countless sacrifices; in time he would make the supreme sacrifice, because God is worth it, and God’s people are worth it.
But Paul has invoked the totality of his own dedication only to highlight the Lord’s dedication: “If we have died with him we shall live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him.” The final lines of that ancient hymn give the flip-side: “If we deny him he shall deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” That may seem strange, but He’s really saying that God is faithful in upholding His own justice. He validates the choice to reject His goodness. The very ability to reject God testifies to the greatness of the freedom that God has entrusted to us—a freedom to be used wisely.
By the way, if you are attending Mass today, it very strongly suggests that you do not want to reject God. That is good! You have taken to heart St. Paul’s declaration: “The word of God is not chained.” He desires freedom for His children. In so many ways we flounder about in this world just wanting to be accepted and loved. Please God, our parishes ought to be a place where God can communicate that sense of acceptance—if not here, then where? Through the Eucharist, and through many daily acts of thanksgiving and praise, may the Lord lead you and me more deeply into His wise and loving plan each day. By bearing our hardships, celebrating each other’s progress, and sharing our grief and joy with others, we might be ever more receptive to the Lord’s gift of salvation.