One of my regular activities during the period of time I was a college campus minister was to hang out with the members of the Catholic student organization at a weekly event sponsored by the University. Each Wednesday the University set aside space for an open air market along a major thoroughfare on campus. The Wednesday street market drew vendors who sold goods and services to college students. Student organizations had the opportunity to participate in the event, as well.
The members of the Catholic student organization handed out information about our Chapel and student activities. When I went to visit them at the Wednesday market I made a point to spend a few minutes with the Atheist student club. The atheists had very entertaining advertising. Among their many slogans and posters, one of my favorites said, “With no afterlife I have to treat people right the first time.” However, not all of their posters were so upbeat. There was another that said, “God Doesn’t Exist; I Guess That Means No One Loves You.” They needed a frowny face to go with that one.
One of the atheists’ principal arguments against the existence of God was that God cannot be seen or touched or measured (in a scientific way). I was never swayed by this argument because one of the principal traits of the atheists was that they wore their resentment against God like a badge of honor. Their resentment was no more visible, tangible or measurable than God’s existence, but it was just as certain as God’s existence.
I made a point each week of interacting with the atheists in order to teach the students in the Catholic club how to know who God is. The major causes of unbelief are resentment and a misunderstanding of God’s nature. The atheists provided good illustrations of both these causes. The Scriptures also have a great deal to say about resentment and misunderstanding God.
In today’s first reading Naaman, an army General from a conquering nation, went to Elisha to seek a cure for his leprosy. At first, he was reluctant to wash in the Jordan river as Elisha had instructed. (2 Kings 5:11-12) When he did go to the river to bathe he was cured of the disease.
Naaman’s initial reluctance was born of the relative insignificance of the Jordan River. True to form, however, God chose the insignificant to direct the powerful. The healing of Naaman is an example of a recurring theme in the Scriptures. Salvation (in this case, physical healing), is offered to all people universally. However, salvation only happens for those who are willing to put their faith in the One, True God. There is only One, True God, and there is only one true faith that leads to fulfilling God’s specific will for one’s life.
God is commonly misunderstood, by believers and non-believers alike, as being an abstract spiritual power that exists at a distance from the lives of people. The Scriptures offer a corrective to this misunderstanding. The Scriptures are very clear about the fact that God is unique, and knowledge of God comes through a person’s individual faith. The Scriptures also have a great deal to say about resentment, the other cause of unbelief.
In the Gospel reading today the Samaritan, the one whom no one would have thought capable of faith, was the only one who expressed gratitude for the gift of healing. The Gospel says, “one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” (Luke 17:15-16)
Jesus recognized faith in the Samaritan because the Samaritan was grateful to God. (Luke 17:19) The Scriptures repeatedly describe gratitude to God as constitutive of covenanted faith. The distance that unbelief puts between us and God is bridgeable, almost in an instant; we have only to be grateful to God.
When was the last time you paused to thank God for the individual gifts and blessings in your life? A generic sentiment of thanks isn’t enough. True gratitude is attached to specific good gifts. The individuality and specificity of true gratitude is what brings us into God’s presence. Have you given consideration to gratitude recently? Will you do so now? What, specifically, do you have to grateful for today? God is waiting to be encountered in the particular blessings you enjoy at this particular moment.