This week is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here. The themes are belief, obedience and gratitude. The first reading talks about the how the pagan General Naaman believed in and followed the instructions of the prophet Elisha to heal his leprosy. The second reading continues Paul’s letter to Timothy. The Gospel tells about how Jesus healed ten lepers but only one returned to thank you.
For this week’s reflection, we again go the land down under with the Australian priest Fr. John Speekman. Fr. Speekman discusses the themes of belief, obedience and gratitude by focusing on General Naaman in the first reading. To capture the full benefit of the power of the story of Naaman, I encourage you to read all of Chapter 5 of the second book of Kings which is found here. Fr. Speekman then discusses its significance:
“Naaman was a well-respected and successful army commander to the king of Aram and although he was a pagan he was pleasing to God. This fact is worthy of consideration. God has friends everywhere – among Buddhists, Anglicans, Hindus, Moslems – and even among Catholics.
Naaman would have cut a fine figure; army commanders are not usually drawn from the ranks of geekdom. He was probably tall and powerfully built, a man to be admired and perhaps, even, to be envied. But, as Hollywood has taught us, even the rich and famous are tarred with mortality, and so was Naaman.
Unfortunately for Naaman somewhere along the line he had contracted leprosy and this, understandably, made him somewhat desperate. Leprosy was not like the flu or a bad head cold; it was a terminal disease.
Now on one of their raids, the Aramaeans had carried off from the land of Israel a little girl who had become a servant of Naaman’s wife.
What a wonderful dramatic effect! There stands the army commander Naaman and on stage walks a little girl, a servant, a Hebrew slave. Aren’t God’s ways mysterious?
Not only does God choose to speak to us in totally unexpected and unforseen ways but he does so through the most unlikely people; the conqueror of cities is saved by a lowly serving maid.
Somehow another young Hebrew comes to mind, Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. He, too, was a servant and he, too, quite providentially came to the aid of his captors.
Then again one thinks quite naturally of the wedding feast of Cana at which the wine disastrously ran out. Who could have anticipated that it would be Mary, one of the guests, who would see a way out of this impossible situation? His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’. (John 2:5)
The little girl said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would approach the prophet of Samaria. He would cure him of his leprosy.’ You can almost hear her saying, ‘Go to the prophet and do whatever he tells you.’
And then, when Egypt needed saving Pharaoh said to the people: Go to Joseph and do what he tells you. (Genesis 41:55)
The thread connecting each of these incidents is the simple and binding command: obey the word.
So off goes Naaman. He takes with him all that he thinks he will need to purchase his healing – ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten festal robes. Poor Naaman, he does not yet understand the goodness and mercy of God which money cannot buy!
So Naaman came with his team and chariot and drew up at the door of Elisha’s house.
The learning curve immediately becomes steeper; the prophet doesn’t even bother coming out to meet the great commander but via his messenger gives him a simple command: Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will become clean once more.
Do you get the picture? Believe and obey! That is the secret of God; that is the secret of healing and life.
But Naaman is still not on God’s wavelength. He is still thinking in worldly terms and feels humiliated. He wants a little respect from the prophet; he wants a personal healing session with a little hocus pocus, with chanting and hand-waving. All he gets is an order.
To Naaman the notion of just believing and obeying made no sense: Surely … the rivers of Damascus, are better than any water in Israel? Could I not bathe in them and become clean?’ And he turned round and went off in a rage.
Once again the wise word which brings healing comes to the great man through his servants who approach him and say: My father, if the prophet had asked you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? All the more reason, then, when he says to you, “Bathe, and you will become clean”.
* * *
All Naaman has to do is believe and obey.
So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, as Elisha had told him to do. And his flesh became clean once more like the flesh of a little child.
With the healing of his flesh Naaman comes to faith in the one true God. Not only is he healed but, like the leper in today’s Gospel, he is saved.
‘Now I know’ he said ‘that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel … your servant will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any god except the God of Israel.’
Naaman believed the word of the prophet and obeyed. That is when faith becomes effective. Surely this is a lesson for our own lives too. This world has no shortage of faith but a critical shortage of those who ‘obey’ their faith.
Let’s always remember:
It’s not medicine until you take it.
It’s not a parachute unless you open it.
It’s not a song till you sing it.
It’s not faith until you practice it.”