Mar 21, 2022: Monday of the Third Week of Lent

1st Reading – 2 Kings 5:1-15ab

Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram,
was highly esteemed and respected by his master,
for through him the LORD had brought victory to Aram.
But valiant as he was, the man was a leper.
Now the Arameans had captured in a raid on the land of Israel
a little girl, who became the servant of Naaman’s wife.
“If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria,”
she said to her mistress, “he would cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman went and told his lord
just what the slave girl from the land of Israel had said.
“Go,” said the king of Aram.
“I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”
So Naaman set out, taking along ten silver talents,
six thousand gold pieces, and ten festal garments.
To the king of Israel he brought the letter, which read:
“With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you,
that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

When he read the letter,
the king of Israel tore his garments and exclaimed:
“Am I a god with power over life and death,
that this man should send someone to me to be cured of leprosy?
Take note! You can see he is only looking for a quarrel with me!”
When Elisha, the man of God,
heard that the king of Israel had torn his garments,
he sent word to the king:
“Why have you torn your garments?
Let him come to me and find out
that there is a prophet in Israel.”

Naaman came with his horses and chariots
and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.
The prophet sent him the message:
“Go and wash seven times in the Jordan,
and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.”
But Naaman went away angry, saying,
“I thought that he would surely come out and stand there
to invoke the LORD his God,
and would move his hand over the spot,
and thus cure the leprosy.
Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar,
better than all the waters of Israel? 
Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?”
With this, he turned about in anger and left.

But his servants came up and reasoned with him.
“My father,” they said,
“if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary,
would you not have done it?
All the more now, since he said to you,
‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.”
So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times
at the word of the man of God.
His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

He returned with his whole retinue to the man of God.
On his arrival he stood before him and said,
“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth,
except in Israel.”

Today’s first reading is an episode from 2 Kings about the prophet Elisha. In it, God shows that he manifests himself not only to Israelites but also to foreigners — even foreign enemies of Israel.

It is a narrative about healing, gratitude, conversion, and worship.

Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram, was highly esteemed and respected by his master, for through him the LORD had brought victory to Aram.

Aram is another name for Syria, a nation with which Israel was permanently embroiled (1 Kings 20:22, 2 Kings 6:8-23).

But valiant as he was, the man was a leper.

Naaman was handicapped at the height of his military career by leprosy.

The terms traditionally translated “leper” and “leprosy” covered a wide variety of skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and seborrhea, but probably not Hansen’s disease (modern “leprosy”); there is no clear evidence of its existence in biblical times.

Now the Arameans had captured in a raid on the land of Israel a little girl, who became the servant of Naaman’s wife. “If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria,” she said to her mistress, “he would cure him of his leprosy.”

God can use everything for good, even something as tragic as the kidnapping of a little girl. This Syrian family would not have come to know the God of Israel without her in their home.

The prophet the girl refers to is Elisha. Despite his many wondrous deeds, Luke 4:27 (part of our gospel reading) tells us that he had not cleansed any leper. The girl infers from his other miracles that Elisha could cure her master, and that he would do it, although her master was a Syrian.

The girl’s desire for the health and welfare of her master is remarkable considering that she is his captive.

Naaman went and told his lord just what the slave girl from the land of Israel had said. “Go,” said the king of Aram. “I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

It’s safe to assume that Naaman had sought all means of a cure within his own country, clearly to no end. He had no real reason to think that a prophet in an enemy land had powers that could surpass the physicians of Syria, especially based on the guidance from a young slave. And yet he takes notice and follows the path that will ultimately lead him to God.

So Naaman set out, taking along ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces, and ten festal garments.

If he finds an available cure, Naaman is willing to pay handsomely for it.

To the king of Israel he brought the letter, which read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman has no idea where to find the wonder-working prophet he has heard about. He travels directly to the king, taking it for granted that the king would surely know Elisha’s whereabouts.

When he read the letter, the king of Israel tore his garments and exclaimed: “Am I a god with power over life and death, that this man should send someone to me to be cured of leprosy? 

When the king of Aram wrote “that you [the king of Israel] may cure him,” he meant that the king would cure him by way of commanding Elisha to do so.

The king misunderstands and takes the message literally, thinking that the king of Aram expects him to personally heal Naaman.

He sees the whole situation as troublesome and blasphemous — from his perspective, everyone should know that God alone is the Lord of life and death, of health and sickness (Deuteronomy 32:39, Job 5:18). Any presumption that the king of Israel has divine powers of his own would be an affront to God. Therefore, he rips his garments in the traditional public display of grief.

Take note! You can see he is only looking for a quarrel with me!”

The king believes that his inability to cure Naaman will be used by the king of Aram as a pretext to wage war.

When Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his garments,

A king tearing his garments would have been a very newsworthy event; the entire kingdom would have been troubled along with their king.

he sent word to the king: “Why have you torn your garments? Let him come to me and find out that there is a prophet in Israel.”

It’s ironic (and perhaps telling) that Naaman, a pagan, has heard of Elisha — but the king of Israel seems completely ignorant of him.

In his humility, Elisha does not scoff at being forgotten or overlooked, but simply offers to help. His motive is not to bring renown to himself, but to help this powerful Syrian discover God.

Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.

Mention of the horses and chariots is an indication of Naaman’s wealth and prestige.

The prophet sent him the message: “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.”

Elisha doesn’t even emerge from his house to greet this illustrious visitor! Instead, he sends a message with instructions.

But Naaman went away angry, saying, “I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. 

Naaman is offended. He expected Elisha to invoke the name of God in an exhibition of power and cure him on the spot. Instead, Elisha didn’t even greet him and gives baffling instructions for bathing in the notoriously muddy waters of the Jordan.

Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” 

Hygienically, the waters of the Jordan are no match for the clear mountain spring waters of Damascus; ritually, it is the other way around.

With this, he turned about in anger and left.

Naaman needs to see that the prophet of the Lord is not a magician or a kind of witch-doctor, nor will he be cured by the water itself.

It will be God who cleanses him when he does what he is told.

But his servants came up and reasoned with him. “My father,” they said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.”

Naaman’s servants carefully appeal to him to reconsider, calling on him with filial affection. Perhaps the servants had heard their own stories of Elisha’s powerful deeds, or perhaps they wanted him to try the remedy in hopes that their long journey would not be in vain.

So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God.

Just as he had with the slave girl, Naaman heeds the advice of his inferiors — to his great benefit.

Note that Namaan had to “go down” (yārad) to the river: this might have a double meaning. It describes Naaman’s descent into the waters, but it can also demonstrate the humility required for a man with many people under his command to obey the instructions of a lowly prophet from a nation not his own, based on the advice of his lowly servants, and at the behest of a lowly slave.

The reason for washing seven times is not given, but it may have been a test of obedience to have him dip in the water with so many repetitions. The number seven also often symbolizes completion and wholesomeness, indicating that this ritual comprises a complete washing.

His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 

This healing is very unusual. Although Elisha gave instructions for what to do, the prophet himself had nothing to do with the cure. In fact, he wasn’t even present when it happened.

He returned with his whole retinue to the man of God.

Another signal that Naaman was a man of means. He traveled with a retinue, an entourage that probably included attendants of various kinds.

Suffering from leprosy was a terrible physical affliction and an unbearable social stigma. When he realized he had been cured, his indebtedness prompted him to return to Elisha.

On his arrival he stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”

Namaan’s profession of faith is the climax of this episode, the true miracle.

This is not only a statement of tremendous conversion but also a championship of monotheism and universalism. It is not surprising that an Israelite would claim that there is no other God but the Lord, but when a non-Israelite does, it is truly remarkable. Not only was his leprosy gone, the spiritual cure had reached his whole person.

In addition to the inherent power demonstrated by this event, the fact that God chose to heal a foreigner demonstrates God’s love and concern for all, Israelite and non-Israelite alike.

Psalm 42:2-3 & 43:3-4

R. Athirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God?

Psalms 42 and 43 really constitute one song, so they are often linked together. Combined, they form a single lament of three sections, each section ending in an identical refrain. The psalmist is far from Jerusalem and longs for the divine presence that Israel experienced so acutely in the Temple.

As the deer longs for the running waters, so my soul longs for you, O God. Athirst is my soul for God, the living God. 

The psalmist expresses his desire to encounter God as a profoundly spiritual thirst.

When shall I go and behold the face of God?

One’s “face” designates a personal presence (Genesis 33:10; Exodus 10:28–29; 2 Samuel 17:11). The expressions “see God/God’s face” occur elsewhere (Psalms 11:7; 17:15; Exodus 24:10; 33:7–11; Job 33:26) for the presence of God in the Temple.

Send forth your light and your fidelity; they shall lead me on and bring me to your holy mountain, to your dwelling-place.

“Light” and “fidelity” are a pair of divine attributes personified as guides for the pilgrimage. The psalmist is experiencing a kind of darkness, and prays that God’s light and fidelity will guide lead him back to Jerusalem and ultimately to God’s presence in the Temple.

Despite the suffering that is evident, there is no despair. The psalmist confidently anticipates standing in God’s presence.

Then will I go in to the altar of God, the God of my gladness and joy; then will I give you thanks upon the harp, O God, my God!

These last verses resemble a prophetic announcement. It is a confident expectation, cast in future form. The grief and lament of the opening verses have given way to gladness and rejoicing. God has heard and answered the prayer of the psalmist.

Gospel – Luke 4:24-30

Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth:
“Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Just before today’s gospel reading, Jesus read the following passage from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue (Isaiah 61:1-2):

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Although the people were amazed at his teaching, they also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22).

Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Amen, I say to you,

In the gospels, this phrase always introduces a solemn declaration.

no prophet is accepted in his own native place.

Familiarity breeds contempt; it generally holds true that people do not think well of prophets whom they knew when they were ordinary citizens.

In view of their faithlessness, Jesus performs no miracle. This is his normal response to lack of faith; see, for example, his meeting with Herod in Luke 23:7-11.

Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.

Not only does Jesus decline to do any miracles or extraordinary deeds, he actually reproaches them, using two examples from the Old Testament, which show that one needs to be well-disposed if miracles are to lead to faith.

Both examples feature a famous prophet of the Old Testament. These prophets chose to work among foreigners rather than among their own countrymen, presumably at the direction of God.

The first example is Elijah (1 Kings 17:1-18): the widow who benefited from the miracle he performed was a Gentile.

Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

The second example is Elisha (2 Kings 5:1-14): like the widow, Naaman was also a Gentile.

Jesus has taken his examples of universalism to the extreme. The people of Nazareth are already envious of other Jewish cities that have benefited from Jesus’ works, but here he suggests that God goes beyond the confines of Israel and extends his power and grace to the Gentiles.

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.

To the people, the suggestion that the prophetic promise of fulfillment or the saving power of God would be extended to the Gentiles was pure blasphemy.

Note that in his examples, Jesus does not suggest that the Gentiles will join the Jews in their experience of God’s goodness, he states that the Gentiles will receive God’s goodness instead of the Jews.

Jesus’ mission knows no boundaries; if the Israelites refuse to listen to his word, God will draw other peoples to himself.

This is a bitter message for a chosen people.

They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.

They drove him out of the town because it was unlawful to execute someone within the city. It is clear that they are ready to kill him.

Jesus has followed the pattern of the prophets who came before him: he, along with the word of God he proclaims, is rejected.

But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

As on other occasions, Jesus doesn’t flee the angry crowds but mysteriously passes through them. No amount of opposition can thwart God’s power to save not only the Israelites, but the Gentiles as well.

By describing the intent of the people to kill him, Luke is also foreshadowing Jesus’ future passion and death. Jesus’ ability to mysteriously slip away highlights God’s divine plan for Jesus to die on the cross only at the appointed hour (see John 18:32; John 3:12-14; Matthew 20:17-19).

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