28th Sunday – Ord. Time [C]

The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
II Kgs 5:14-17  +  2 Tim 2:8-13  +  Lk 17:11-19
October 9, 2016

“‘If we have died with Him / we shall also live with Him….’”

You might have heard of the boy who was watching his father, a Protestant minister, at his desk, writing his Sunday sermon.  Little Billy asked, “Daddy, how do you know what to say?”  Reverend Jones replied, “Why, son, God tells me.”  “Oh,” said the lad.  Then Billy scratched his head and asked, “Then why do you keep crossing things out?”

Many of us Christians, unfortunately, edit God’s Word.  Have you ever noticed how rare it is to see a crucifix in a non-Catholic church building?  Instead, you see just a plain cross on the wall.  When you ask why this is, you’re usually told that the emphasis of Christians ought to be on the Resurrection, and that this is why their cross is bare.  Cross:  yes; Body of Christ, no.

Catholic Christians do not follow this approach.  We don’t edit out the suffering Jesus in order to focus squarely on the Resurrection.  In theology, this is called the “both/and” approach to understanding and living our Christian Faith.  We believe in faith and good works.  We believe in Scripture and Tradition.  We believe in divine grace and human merit.  We believe in the Cross of Christ and the Body of Christ.  From each of these pairs of mysteries, the Christian who meditates can draw great spiritual fruit.  Saint Paul, in today’s Second Reading, focuses our attention upon the mysteries of Christ’s death.

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“This saying is trustworthy:  ‘If we have died with Him / we shall also live with Him….’”  Saint Paul, in saying this, is not subscribing to the belief that some Christians hold:  namely, that Jesus suffered and died so that you don’t have to.  No.  Jesus suffered and died not so that you don’t have to.  Jesus suffered and died so that your suffering and death would not be meaningless.  Because Jesus suffered and died, your suffering death does not have to be a brick wall, but instead can be a doorway.

Saint Paul, in saying this, is showing us how our suffering and death can be a doorway.  “This saying is trustworthy:  ‘If we have died with Him / we shall also live with Him….’”  Living with Jesus is our goal.  Dying with Jesus is our means.  Dying with Jesus is the way by which we enter into Jesus’ life.  But the choice is ours.

Each of us can freely choose whether to die with Jesus.  But St. Paul makes this point clear:  if we have died with Jesus, we shall also live with Him.  But if we have not died with Jesus, we shall not live with Him.

So the question is:  how do we die with Jesus?  Our Catholic Faith tells us that there are three ways that we might die with Jesus:  our baptism, our moral choices, and our last hour on this earth.  Today, consider just the first of these three.

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The first way that we might die with Jesus is baptism.  Now, you might say to yourself, “I was baptized as an infant, so I don’t remember anything about my baptism, and besides, that was a long time ago.  A lot of sins have passed under the bridge since then.”  Nonetheless, it’s important to look back at what happened to you at the moment you were baptized, no matter how many years ago the day of your baptism might have been.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul asks:  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[1]

One of the important truths that St. Paul is setting down is that the effects of Baptism don’t completely vanish once you commit your first mortal sin.  On the contrary, dying and being buried with Jesus in baptism changes a person’s life forever.  The Sacrament of Baptism marks your soul with an indelible mark or seal that cannot erased by even the worst of sins.

But what exactly is this mark or seal that Baptism imprints upon your soul?  You’ve probably seen individuals who have towels in their bathrooms with their initials on them?  It’s something like that with your soul, except it’s not your name, but God’s divine Name, that’s imprinted on your soul.  This mark or seal is God’s way of saying, “This person belongs to me.  This person is my child, and is destined for Heaven.”

Clearly we need never to presume upon this great gift, but there is a flip side to this coin.  The other side reminds us that with every gift comes a responsibility:  actually, more than one.

The first responsibility that comes with every gift is gratitude.  This truth is illustrated in today’s Gospel passage.  “Where are the other nine?”, Jesus asks.  “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”  This “foreigner” was a Samaritan, a group of Jewish people not only looked down upon by most other Jews, but people who refused to worship as God had asked in the Old Testament.  But in spite of all this, Jesus praises this Samaritan because he does know the first responsibility of being given a gift:  that is, to give thanks in return.

You remember that four-letter acronym that sums up the four types of prayer:  or we might want to say, the four motives for praying.  This acronym is the word “PACT”, which is another word for the “covenant” that Jesus established with fallen man on Calvary.  The word “pact” is spelled P-A-C-T.  These four letters stand for petition, adoration, contrition, and thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving, or gratitude, helps us remember that we brought nothing with us into this world, and we will take nothing with us when we leave:  except, of course, our immortal soul.  But the shape of our soul depends upon dying with Christ:  not only at the moment of our baptism, but every moment that God gives us on this earth, in every moral choice that baptism strengthens us for, until the hour of our death.

[1] Romans 6:3-4.