Jesus teaching in the synagogue by Greg Olsen
Monday of the Third Week of Lent Lectionary: 237
Reading 1 2 kgs 5:1-15ab
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.”
Responsorial Psalm ps 42:2, 3; 43:3, 4
Gospel lk 4:24-30
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
May nothing disturb you.
May nothing astonish you.
God does not go away.
can attain anything.
He who has God within,
does not lack anything.
God is everything!*
Above prayer by St. Teresa of Avila is usually called “Nade de Turbe”
We recommend the book “Holy Spirit” By Edward Leen. It changed my life. It can change yours too.
“Pain and suffering are the touchstones of spiritual growth.”
– Henri Nouwen
The greatest obstacle to faith is pride. It is the attitude of one who thinks he knows everything and can do everything by his own strength and effort. This is the context of today’s gospel. The Jews could not accept Jesus because He was only the son of a carpenter and one of their own kind. They could not accept that someone so ordinary like Jesus could teach them anything new. This made Jesus remark, “I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.”
Indeed, Naaman, an “army commander to the king of Aram, was a man who enjoyed his master’s respect and favour.” But he failed to realize that it was the Lord who had granted him victory to the Aramaens. He became proud of his success. He thought that his success in battles was primarily due to his might, ingenuity and strategy. His over self-confidence was evident in the way he approached the King of Israel to help him. We are told that he brought with him “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten festal robes.” His arrogance was displayed when he did not even bother to come down from his chariot to meet the prophet. And when told to bathe in the river seven times, he was indignant and became angry with the prophet for not coming out to receive him or perform some spectacular miracles as he had imagined.
Yet the fact remains that he was a leper. To suffer from leprosy must have been a crippling experience then. No one could heal him, not even the king with all his powers and wealth. The truth as the gospel tells us is that life and everything else is a gift from God. Indeed, at the beginning of the first reading, we read that it was the Lord who gave Naaman the victory over his enemies. So there is nothing to boast about. If there is anything to boast about in life, it is the mercy and love of God. In the face of death, Naaman showed himself to be powerless. Only God could heal him for He is the author of life and death. Even the king of Israel admitted his limitations for after reading the letter from the king of Aram, he tore his garments in dismay saying, “Am I a god to give death and life, that he sends a man to me and asks me to cure him of his leprosy? Listen to this, and take note of it and see how he intends to pick a quarrel with me.”
At any rate, Naaman was given a lesson in humility both by God and by Elisha. It was a necessary lesson or else Naaman would have been destroyed by a greater sickness, not just by leprosy which is merely being alienated from man but by sin, which is to be alienated from God. It was important that Naaman learns that Yahweh, the God of Israel is truly the powerful One on earth.
As we enter the third week of Lent, the promise of new life is ours provided we are humble enough to recognize our need for God and we have a change of heart. The gift of His love is only given to those who are humble of heart, repentant of their sins, especially pride and who desire Him. We cannot buy or earn God’s love and gift of life. This is particularly true in the case of baptism which is a gift from God. Grace is a gift from God that cannot be bought by presents or bribery, hence Elisha refused to accept any gift from Naaman after he was healed. Indeed, the cleansing of Naaman in the river prefigures the Christian baptism whereby sins are forgiven and new life is given.
Indeed, humility is the prerequisite for faith in God. The Jews were self-righteous and could not accept Jesus. This explains why they were incensed when Jesus pointed out that miracles were performed for the Gentiles, whom they felt were undeserving of God’s love. Yet, Elijah was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town when there was a great famine and “then in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.” They held that salvation was only meant for the Jews since they were the chosen race.
Today, we are called to be open to the Word of God, as in the case of the servant girl who prompted Naaman’s wife to tell her husband to seek help from the prophet Elisha. Only through the intervention of a slave girl could Naaman be healed. We need not think that it must be someone great, such as a theologian, preacher or healer, before we listen to him. If we have faith and humility, then God can work and speak through anyone, especially members of our community, our loved ones and those whom we meet each day.
The obstacle to God’s grace is our pride. We think too highly of ourselves. We are not open to hear from others especially if they are our peers or our subordinates. Do we get angry, especially when someone junior to us corrects us? Are we humble enough to hear the Word, come to repentance and act accordingly like Naaman? This is what we are called to in order to receive the grace of Easter, the gift of new life.
How then can we overcome our pride? God comes to us through ordinary ways. So let us make use of the means given to us in Lent. Just as God healed Naaman through the waters of Jordan, so too let us make use of ordinary means of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to grow in humility. Let us learn from the widow cited by Jesus in today’s gospel. Elisha was sent to help her because of her generosity. She shared the little food and oil that she had with him, trusting in God alone, leaving nothing for herself. Her hospitality and faith in God and in the prophet empowered her to give of herself completely. May we too learn to trust in God’s love and surrender our lives in faith like her through whatever means the Church has provided for us to grow in holiness and through the people we meet each day in our lives.
Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
Today’s Gospel (Lk 4, 24-30) forms part of a larger part (Lk 4, 14-32) Jesus had presented his program in the Synagogue of Nazareth, using a text from Isaiah which spoke about the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed (Is 61, 1-2) and which mirrored the situation of the people of Galilee at the time of Jesus. In the name of God, Jesus takes a stand and defines his mission: to proclaim the Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberation to prisoners, to give back their sight to the blind, to restore liberty to the oppressed. After finishing the reading, he updated the text and says: “Today this text is being fulfilled even while you are listening. !” (Lk 4, 21). All those present were astonished (Lk 4, 16, 22b). But immediately after there was a reaction of discredit. The people in the Synagogue were scandalized and did not want to know anything about Jesus. They said: “Is he not the son of Joseph?” (Lk 4, 22b). Why were they scandalized? Which is the reason for this unexpected reaction?
Because Jesus quoted the text of Isaiah only to the part that says: “to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord”, and he omits the end of the sentence which says: “to proclaim a day of vengeance for our God” (Is 61, 2). The people of Nazareth remained surprised because Jesus omitted the phrase on vengeance. They wanted the Good News of the liberation of the oppressed to be an action of vengeance on the part of God against the oppressors. In this case the coming of the Kingdom would be only a superficial change, and not a change or conversion of the system. Jesus does not accept this way of thinking. His experience of God the Father helps him to understand better the significance of the prophecies. He takes away the vengeance. The people of Nazareth do not accept that proposal and the authority of Jesus begins to diminish: “Is he not Joseph’s son?”
Luke 4, 24: No prophet is ever accepted in his own country. The people of Nazareth was jealous because of the miracles which Jesus had worked in Capernaum, because he had not worked them in Nazareth. Jesus answers: “No prophet is ever accepted in his own country!” In fact, they did not accept the new image of God which Jesus communicated to them through this new and freer interpretation of Isaiah. The message of the God of Jesus went beyond the limits of the race of the Jews and opened itself to accept the excluded and the whole humanity.
Luke 4, 25-27: Two stories of the Old Testament. In order to help the community to overcome the scandal and to understand the universality of God, Jesus uses two well known stories of the Old Testament: one of Elijah and the other one of Elisha. Through these stories he criticized the people of Nazareth who were so closed up in themselves. Elijah was sent to the foreign widow of Zarephah (1 Kg 17, 7-16). Elisha was sent to take care of the foreigner of Syria (2 Kg 5, 14).
Luke 4, 28-30: They intended to throw him off the cliff, but he passed straight through the crowd and walked away. What Jesus said did not calm down the people. On the contrary! The use of these two passages of the Bible also caused them to get more angry. The community of Nazareth reached the point of wanting to kill Jesus. And thus, at the moment in which he presented his project to accept the excluded, Jesus himself was excluded! But he remained calm! The anger of the others did not succeed to make him change his mind. In this way, Luke indicates that it is difficult to overcome the mentality of privilege which is closed up in itself. And he showed that the polemic attitude of the Pagans already existed in the time of Jesus. Jesus had the same difficulty which the Hebrew community had in the time of Luke.
Is Jesus’ program also my program, our program? Is my attitude that of Jesus or that of the people of Nazareth?
Who are those excluded whom we should accept better in our community?
My whole being yearns and pines for Yahweh’s courts, My heart and my body cry out for joy to the living God. (Ps 84,2)