Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Returning from a two week vacation last summer, landing first in Charlotte NC, and then in Louisville KY, I was glad to see a startling-but-familiar variety of complexions in the American airports -- especially the African-American faces. There are some people of African and Asian descent in England and Ireland but not many. I didn't realize how I'd missed them until I came home.
Today's selections from the Bible accentuate one of the Gospel's many challenges, that of welcoming "strange" people into our communion.
In the first reading, we hear of the Syrian general Naaman. Healed of his leprosy he is ready to declare that the God of Israel will be his "personal Lord and Savior" despite his living in a distant land. In fact, he'll haul "two mule-loads of earth" home with him just to assure his proximity to Israel's God. If anyone doubts the efficacy of third-class relics they have only to read this story from 2 Kings.
If you have read the entire story in 2 Kings 5, you'll recall the King of Israel was prepared to go to war over Naaman's approach. There was a long history of hostility and suspicion between the two countries; and he assumed the general represented his Syrian king and not his personal quest for salvation.
How often do we suppose that stranger represents only his tribe and not a human being with a history of disappointment and hope?
In the gospel, we learn that only the Samaritan returned to praise God and thank Jesus for his healing. We're not told the nationality of the other nine lepers but "this foreigner" was the only one who returned. We have heard it said, "Many are called, few are chosen." This man was among the few.
But the Lord's disappointment with the rest is palpable. He will give his life for the salvation of the world but only a few will elect to be saved.
And who are they? They are the merciful. They are the ones ready to extend mercy to strangers and familiars, to friends and foes.
American Christians are particularly fortunate. We are given opportunities every day to welcome people of many different nationalities, languages, religions, sexual preferences and political opinions. Increasingly blended in this "melting pot," we experience the community of heaven itself among all these people. Each day represents a challenge and an invitation to be hospitable for you have received hospitality; and merciful, for you have received mercy.