The Bible is full of good stories. They often work at many levels, and the trick is to find the inspired meaning. Today’s first reading, about Naaman, the Syrian general, is a good case in point. He is an important person and he has a serious problem. He thinks it needs a serious solution and is miffed when he is told to wash himself in the waters of the Jordan – a puny stream, by his standards. How human! As a clinical scientist, I often encounter the same response to serious health problems and policy issues. We seem to prefer approaches that are high-tech, expensive, complicated, and sometimes risky over those that are simple and inexpensive. I’m amazed at how accurately this ancient Jewish story has put its finger squarely on a timeless issue. How little human nature has changed! How insightful the Scriptures are!
But the Bible is concerned with something far more important than human psychology. In today’s Gospel, Jesus cites this very story in response to the skepticism he, himself, encountered in his home town. He does so, focusing not on Naaman, but on the Israelites of Naaman’s time who, presumably, did not think much of Elisha, just as Jesus’ own neighbors in Nazareth apparently did not think much of him. Jesus’ point (and Luke’s) was that what God has to offer is available to anyone and is not confined to a few who, like us Christians, believe we are on the inside track, that we are special. As John Shea has remarked, the banquet is open to anyone willing to sit down with everyone else. If we are not willing, then it’s not that a vengeful God excludes us. Rather it is that we fail to recognize what we are being offered. It is we who reject it.
Why do prophets have to come from out of town? Why do we not heed the prophetic voices we hear (or perhaps fail to hear) in our own family/parish/university/community? Clearly we know them too well. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, if they are related to us or our social group, they cannot be very special. Also, they’re probably not saintly enough to persuade us. But, whoever said a prophet had to be saintly? The prophet is just the messenger, the one who gives us an insight into how God sees things. It’s the message we need to hear and to heed. Perhaps we would be more impressed with a booming majestic, other-worldly voice – as in the “Wizard of Oz”. Elijah (Elisha’s predecessor and mentor) sought just such a voice on Mt. Horeb, but instead found God in a quiet whisper. Why do we tend not to recognize God’s voice in the ordinary? Jesus reveals to us that God is incarnate in the ordinariness of our world and our daily lives. Lent is a wonderful time for exercising a certain economy of our presumptions as well as for quiet listening.
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