“Do we love God?” This is the question that the Gospel reading for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time with the story of the one leper who returns puts before us. It is an important question and one that each sincere disciple must reflect upon. We might believe that there is a God; we might turn to God in moments of crisis or struggle but do we love God?

It is fair to ask, “how does the one leper in today’s gospel (Lk. 17:11-19) evoke this question for our reflection?” He does so by returning. “And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” By this simple act of returning the one leper expressed his gratitude and demonstrated his honest desire to enter into relationship with God. He is not content to just hold God as an “interesting concept” in life nor is it enough for him to just receive the help needed in struggle and then walk away (although it seems to have been enough for the other nine … at least at that moment in their lives). Rather, he returns.

Actually, the movement of “returning” links each of the readings for this Sunday. We have just examined it in the Gospel reading. In the first reading (2 Kings 5:14-17), we are told that after carrying out the prophet’s instructions by washing himself in the Jordan river and being healed, Naaman then, “returns with his whole retinue to the man of God.” Also, to give thanks.

In the second Letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:8-13), we are told, “Beloved, remember Jesus Christ…” and all that he has done and all that he has won for us. To “remember” in this regards is to return – to come back once again to Christ, to place ourselves at his feet and to give thanks. “Remember Jesus Christ…”

Yes, it is possible to live ones life keeping God at a safe distance as an interesting concept to ponder every so often or only to turn to God when in need but for a disciple of Christ this just cannot be. Discipleship, by its very nature, implies relationship. It implies the willingness, vulnerability and humility to love. Do we love God? For a disciple the answer must always be “yes” – a full “yes” said in the knowledge and acceptance of all that love implies.

This call to love God can truly be frightening because we both know our own unworthiness and we know the infinite goodness of God. But here it is helpful to remember an important dynamic of true love – love perfects itself. Despite all our shortcomings, sins and failures; even the slightest return, even the littlest movement of love on our part is met with the immensity of God’s love and it is in this supremely unequal exchange of love (bit by bit) that we are a little more perfected, a little more healed and made whole. Lord, set me free; that I might draw closer to thee.

To the one cleansed leper who returned – who made that choice to enter into relationship and to love God – our Lord said, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” The other nine did not hear these words because they did not return to give thanks but the one who returned did. “Stand up”, or in other words, regain your dignity, your knowledge that you are a child of God and live now in this reality. When we love God and allow God to love us we gain the truth of who we are.

Reflection Point: Spend some time praying with and reflecting on Luke 17:11-19 and the image found above. Do you recognize the choice to return even as others rush on by? What might this say about your desire for God? Give thanks to God for his blessings.