1 Samuel 4:1-11
How do we recognize and take God’s divine presence in and among us? Do we see it as symbolic, or a living reality? Do we take for granted its abiding nature and, at times, even as an amulet? Or do we trust and appreciate its life-giving power at all times and in all circumstances?
Let us consider the above questions as we look into today’s scripture readings, for they reflect the contrasting attitudes of a manipulating belief and an unwavering trust. In effect, the first reading pictures the scenario in which the Israelites not only fail to acknowledge God’s abiding presence with them while they are engaged in battle with the Philistines, but they also take it as an amulet to manipulate the outcome of their fighting with their pagan adversaries. For the Israelite leaders not only complain about God permitting them to be defeated by the Philistines, but also "fetch the ark of the LORD from Shiloh that it may go into battle among us and save us from the grasp of our enemies." They identify God’s real and abiding presence with the hand-made symbol of divine presence: "the ark of the LORD of hosts." No wonder the Israelites were more brutally defeated a second time. For their true, living God does not like to be taken neither for granted nor as a triumphalist idol. Likewise, we may at times come to make the mistake of conditioning our relationship with God, whom we might try to manipulate as though God were a puppet.
The gospel offers the contrasting attitude of an unwavering trust, for we see "a leper" coming to Jesus and "kneeling down" to beg him for mercy and healing, as he says: "If you wish, you can make me clean." The physical, social, and psychological condition of his suffering and the unwavering trust of his attitude towards him make Jesus’ compassionate words and touch perform the miraculous healing of his illness. Mark even shows us that Jesus did not "come to abolish the law or the prophets" (Mt 5:17), for he came to fulfill it with love and mercy. That is why Jesus performs the healing miracle in two parts. First, he heals the leper’s physical illness by making him clean of his leprosy and then sends him "to the priest [to] offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them." By being confirmed physically healed, the leper is fully integrated into society which releases him from his social and psychological sufferings. The gospel thus encourages us to always come to Jesus with an unwavering trust, because faith is the only thing that matters to God in order for us to be healed and saved by Jesus.
Let us reflect on the above questions and evaluate our personal and communal relationship with God and one another. I pray that you and I may come to be recognized as a steadfast people of faith and hope in Our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
Fr. Alfredo Ocampo, C.P. gives retreats and parish missions. He is stationed at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.