Let’s look at our second reading. We find St Paul there as a prisoner: “It is on account of the Good News, - he wrote – that I have my own hardships to bear, even to being chained like a criminal.” Why couldn’t Paul simply include other gods in his believing system? He could have his freedom and opportunity to keep doing his ministry. All he had to do was to be so called ’tolerant’ by worshipping other gods. He explained it this way: “I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.”
My Dear Sisters and Brothers! Can you remember Naaman from the first reading? He came from a pagan country to see Prophet Elisha in order to be healed of leprosy. When he was healed he made a strong statement: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” The God who healed Naaman the leper became visible, became a human being in Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary. I am deeply moved by simplicity of that man Naaman. He couldn’t stay in the land where he was cured. But before returning to his home country he asked to be allowed to take some soil with him so that back home he could have a sacred place covered with that dirt from the Holy Land to keep remembering that the God who gave the Holy Land to the people of Israel is the only God. If Paul and those first Christians refused to worship other gods it was because they treasured the great things God did in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. They were convinced that Jesus’ death and resurrection cannot be compromised. They wanted to witness to others how much God did for them.
The event we had in the Gospel captures that well. The cured leper comes back to Jesus glorying God. Out of that group of ten, who was right then? One man or the majority? Bishop Fulton Sheen, an evangeliser from the previous century, who had a deep faith and a sharp mind once said: ‘Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right.’ Twenty centuries ago when everybody was religious, one way or the other, the Christian way of believing triggered some ferocious persecutions as it challenged that tolerant way of believing in all gods. The world we know is different. It is not a religious world any more. That’s why our society is not so much tolerant to religion as simply indifferent. However once God is not included in the picture it is the human being who replaces God. It is the human being who starts deciding what is good or evil. It is the human being who demands others to obey the new principles of good and evil. Bishop Sheen prophetically some decades ago articulated: ‘Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote.’ I believe his words are worth remembering. ‘Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote.’
My Dear Fellow Believers! Naaman returned home with some soil from the Holy Land in order not to return to his old mentality but to remember that there is only one God and he is to be loved, worshipped and listened to. Jesus didn’t send his followers with bags of sand from the Holy Land but he gave them the Church. The Church is our sacred place now. It is not a place of hiding from the wicked world but it is the place from which radiates our witness for the only God who manifested himself in life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is to be loved, worshipped and listened to.