It was on the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninety-ninth year (9/9/99) that I gave up a relationship to pursue the priesthood more definitively. I didn’t plan it that way, but it was noteworthy, or at least easy to remember. This Sunday is the tenth day of the tenth month of the tenth year. Noteworthy, and yet not so different than any other Sunday in our lives. But isn’t each Sunday unique? There will never be another Sunday quite like this one. Just as with every other day of our lives, we have to ask ourselves how we will use it, what sort of attitude do we take towards it, and what is God asking of us in particular. Excessive attention to numbers can lead to superstition, but Christians inherited the Jewish use of numbers as symbols of spiritual realities. It is the realities that we place our trust in: God’s presence, His mercy and His justice. May we use this day well, 10/10/10, for the glory of God in preparation for His Coming.
Naaman and Numbers
In our first reading, Naaman, was healed by plunging himself seven times in the Jordan River. At first he complained about this act of participation that Elisha asked of him. Naaman said “Don’t we have better rivers in Syria!” One could ask, why seven times and not eight or six? It is a mystery, but seven is used as a symbol of perfection in the Jewish scriptures. The root in Hebrew (Shin - Bet - Ayin) has three meanings:
1) Seven 2) Full/Complete 3) Oath/Swear
For Naaman, he is asked to participate in his own healing, or rather, his wholeness, being made complete. In response he makes an oath, a covenant regarding sacrificing only to the Lord God of Israel in the future. The reading begs the question for us, “What has God asked of me in participation for my own healing?” What will make me whole?
Jesus and Numbers
One Biblical scholar writes that, “…ten is one of the perfect numbers, and signifies the perfection of Divine order, commencing, as it does, an altogether new series of numbers. The first decade is the representative of the whole numeral system, and originates the system of calculation called "decimals," because the whole system of numeration consists of so many tens, of which the first is a type of the whole. Completeness of order, marking the entire round of anything, is, therefore, the ever-present signification of the number ten. It implies that nothing is wanting; that the number and order are perfect; that the whole cycle is complete.”
In our Gospel, Jesus heals ten lepers, presumably of a mixed religious group in Samaria, otherwise it might not be noted that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan. All are in need of healing and Jesus’ healing is for the whole world. He desires that all men (and women) be saved. His sacrifice and resurrection is sufficient grace for the whole world to be saved. Yet how many recognize and appreciate that? Is it ten percent of the world? We say that 20% of the world is Christian, at least in name. But how many of those practice their faith in a vibrant way, living to the fullness that God desires for us? An urgent task for us as Catholics is to be renewed in the Holy Spirit, to ‘fan into flame’ the gift that has been given to us in Confirmation. We are called to evangelize the world, beginning with ourselves.
I can recall preaching in Italy at St. Mary Major in Rome on the Feast of St. Jerome the great Biblical scholar, with his tomb a few meters down the nave from us, speculating about what would happen if every Catholic read the Scriptures for ten minutes a day, or even one chapter a day, which takes about five minutes. I am sure we would be living in a different world. St. Jerome said that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Let us pray for our own renewal and consider what kind of resolution we can make to become instruments of God’s Word, which brings salvation and true peace to the world.
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