Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 9, 2016
The 2016 Noble Prize in medicine was announced on Monday morning. It was awarded to Japanese researcher, Yoshnori Ohsumi for his work in “autophagy.” Most folks have never heard of that word and have no idea of what it means. It comes from the Greek word auto-“self” and phagein-“to eat.” In the simplest of terms, the cell…the smallest part of all living things, recycles.
Within the cell, there is a process whereby parts that have worn out and are no longer useful, are surrounded by healthy parts, which encircle and transform what is broken and potentially dangerous. This is very important because what’s broken takes up space needed to keep the cell operating properly. This useless material causes life threatening neurodegenerative diseases. Autophagy breaks down what is no longer functioning as it should, becoming dangerous, and converts it into new, fresh, life giving cellular material.
The work of Yoshnori Ohsumi is being heralded as a medical break through because somehow, what he has discovered within the lowest level of life, might be used to cure life threatening diseases. Certainly the honor being paid him for his work is well deserved. It is very doubtful however, that many will give thanks and praise to The Creator, by Whose work the living cell “re-cycles.” As his accomplishments are acknowledged and celebrated, few will recall with gratitude, that it was Almighty God, Who called Yoshnori Ohsumi into life, gifting him with the intelligence, vision, and commitment necessary to make the discoveries that will benefit humankind.
Whether or not there’s any connection between leprosy and this cellular recycling process remains for medical researchers to discover. There is however, a definite connection between autophagy and our spiritual lives. The Nobel Prize in Medicine 2016, and the story of the 10 lepers Jesus encountered on the outskirts of a dusty little village about 2000 years ago, are linked by the truth that we often fail to give thanks to God for the many gifts which the Almighty continual showers us with.
First, it’s important to remember that the lepers stood at a distance from Him (Jesus) as well as from their families, neighbors and friends. Even back then, long before Noble Prizes in medicine were awarded, people recognized the highly contagious nature of the disease.
It is also noteworthy, that when they saw Him approach, they raised their voice. All 10 were desperate for the same thing: healing. And so, they spoke as one. Jesus did have pity on them and “cleansed them.” But even though they raised their voice to ask for healing, only one voice returned to give thanks and praise.
Because of his reaction to being cleansed the Samaritan sets himself apart from the group. And, Jesus’s reaction to this foreigner encourages us to consider that there was something more at work here, over and above Jesus’s power to cure. The key might be in The Lord’s response to the man’s gratitude. YOUR faith has saved you. This is more than a healing miracle, this is a story of conversion.
By acknowledging and expressing thanksgiving and praise to The Lord, the un-named Samaratin man has left us with a brilliant display of faith. And for his work, he won a “peace prize” of sort. He was awarded The Peace of Christ!
Through the Eucharist, God offers that same prize to all the baptized. Consider that the Greek word Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” So, when we Christians gather around the healing Word of The Lord and then feast of His Body and Blood, we are doing exactly what the 10th leper did. In the Eucharist, we are giving God thanks and praise, and for our work we are awarded the ultimate peace prize…THE PEACE OF CHRIST!
It might be helpful to consider the Eucharist as a spiritual process whereby the things that take up space and keep us from living as we were created to live…in the image and likeness of our Creator …are transformed into new, fresh, and life giving grace. But the process IS NOT “autophagy.” The process is Holy Communion…“Christophagy.”
We become what we eat.
Through the Eucharist, we set ourselves apart from those who fail to recognize that all good things come from God. By gathering together and raising our voice in thanks and praise, we are not only doing what is right and just, but we are also increasing our faith. In turn, faith triggers a process of conversion whereby things like greed, selfishness, and envy are recycled into good things.
One last thing…we are contagious! So in the coming week, take every opportunity to infect others with the belief that all good things are from God, Who is deserving of thanks and praise!