This blog tries to find wisdom for each day in the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church.
Reading 1, 2 Kings 5:1-15b
1 Naaman, army commander to the king of Aram, was a man who enjoyed his master’s respect and favour, since through him the Lord had granted victory to the Aramaeans.
2 But the man suffered from a virulent skin-disease. Now, on one of their raids into Israelite territory, the Aramaeans had carried off a little girl, who became a servant of Naaman’s wife.
3 She said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would approach the prophet of Samaria! He would cure him of his skin-disease.’
4 Naaman went and told his master. ‘This and this’, he reported, ‘is what the girl from Israel has said.’
5 ‘Go by all means,’ said the king of Aram, ‘I shall send a letter to the king of Israel.’ So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten festal robes.
6 He presented the letter to the king of Israel. It read, ‘With this letter, I am sending my servant Naaman to you for you to cure him of his skin-disease.’
7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes. ‘Am I a god to give death and life,’ he said, ‘for him to send a man to me and ask me to cure him of his skin-disease? Listen to this and take note of it and see how he intends to pick a quarrel with me.’
8 When Elisha heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent word to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, and he will find there is a prophet in Israel.’
9 So Naaman came with his team and chariot and drew up at the door of Elisha’s house.
10 And Elisha sent him a messenger to say, ‘Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will become clean once more.’
11 But Naaman was indignant and went off, saying, ‘Here was I, thinking he would be sure to come out to me, and stand there, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the spot and cure the part that was diseased.
12 Surely, Abana and Parpar, 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.
13 But his servants approached him and said, ‘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.” ‘
14 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.
15 Returning to Elisha with his whole escort, he went in and, presenting himself, said, ‘Now I know that there is no God anywhere on earth except in Israel. Now, please, accept a present from your servant.’
Gospel, Luke 4:24-30
24 And he went on, ‘In truth I tell you, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.
25 ‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land,
26 but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a town in Sidonia.
27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured — only Naaman the Syrian.’
28 When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged.
29 They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him off the cliff,
30 but he passed straight through the crowd and walked away.
The beautiful story of Naaman is chosen for today’s lectionary, because it is used by Jesus in his response to his critics in Nazareth. All the characters in the story conspire to destroy the arrogance of the Syrian general. The initiative for his healing comes from a Jewish slave. The King of Israel sees him as a source of trouble. The prophet does not even bother to greet him, and gives him a ridiculous prescription for his cure. His own slaves have to remonstrate with him for his own good. Once he has humbled himself, however, it is not only his flesh, but also his spirit, which has become like “that of a little child.” The story is told, to emphasise not only the resources of Israel and its God, but also the submission of a foreigner to God’s prophet at a time when his position in Israel was contested.
Jesus picks up the point that the prophet was not honoured by his own people, and interprets Elisha’s ministry to Naaman, as a God-given mission. Luke’s gentile readers would have glimpsed in Jesus’ words a promise of their place in the early churches. The murderous rage shown by the people of Nazareth arises from religious and national pride: gentiles might come (on their knees) to Israel; but Israel should not go to them.
A recent history book, by Shlomo Sand, has suggested that “Jewish” as an ethnic term, was the invention of one party in Jewish orthodoxy, and argues that Judaism has often been a missionary religion, and that people from many different races have called themselves “Jewish.” Perhaps Jesus was recognising this fact, when he spoke of the mission of the prophets beyond Israel’s racial boundary.
Jesus’ death on the cross, the ultimate expression of his dishonour amongst his own people, is also the ultimate expression of his reaching out to them and all the lepers of the world, including me. How could I ever justify any racial pride or exclusivity?
Yesterday three asylum seekers in Glasgow, fearing deportation, killed themselves by jumping off a high-rise block of flats.