A reflection by Fr. Ron MacDonell, SFM, on 2 Kings 5.1-15a and Luke 4.24-30
The first reading tells the story of Naaman, an army commander in Aram (present-day Syria) who is sick with leprosy. This serious disease, incurable at the time, not only caused physical suffering, but usually left the person a social outcast. An Israelite servant girl suggests that the prophet Elisha of Samaria could cure him. With his king’s support, Naaman travels to Elisha’s place, laden with gifts.
However Naaman becomes enraged when Elisha does not come outside to attend to him personally, sending instead a messenger with very simple advice, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh be restored and you shall be clean.” Him servants calm him and convince him to “Wash, and be clean” and so Naaman is cured of the disease. He returns to Elisha, humble and grateful, recognizing that “there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
Naaman went through a conversion process. Desperation from his disease led him to hope in a foreign prophet. He expected a magical incantation from Elisha to cure him. Yet the prophet downplayed his role: it is the power of God, working through the repeated cleansing in the waters of the Jordan, that healed Naaman. When he is healed, he finally came to recognize the power of the one and only God. He became a believer.
We are often like Naaman, desperate in our difficult situations of stress and suffering. We turn to God, thinking there are complicated answers to our problems. Yet it is so simple!“Wash, and be clean!” That is what we are invited to do during this time of Lent: turn to God, let ourselves be washed over by God’s love, by God’s mercy; let ourselves be healed even of that which we think is “incurable.” With God, all things are possible.
In the Gospel, Jesus refers to Naaman’s faith, and that of the widow at Zarephath in Sidon. All peoples, even those from foreign lands like Aram and Sidon, are called to follow God and be part of the Kingdom. This inclusion of all scandalized the people of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown. They even tried to throw him over a cliff! And so this leads us to ask ourselves this question: are we like the unbelieving Nazarenes, or are we like Naaman, who follows a process of conversion? During our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, let us remember this simple advice, “Wash, and be clean.”