In today’s Old Testament reading in the Maronite lectionary we read about Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a mighty warrior, successful in battle, and therefore a great favorite with the king. However, he suffered with leprosy. In his raids he took a young Hebrew girl as a slave and gave her to his wife. One day this young girl says to her mistress that Naaman could be healed if he were with the prophet of God in Israel.
The audacity, right? “Yeah, you know the land your husband raided and stole me from? Yeah, they could heal him, but probably too late now. I mean, he did raid their land, so…” Was she being prophetic or cheeky? The text doesn’t say. I imagine it cheeky.
Naaman took this information to the king. I imagine that being an interesting conversation, as well. “I did exactly what you said and raided the land of the Hebrews. Turns out their prophet could heal me. Or I could just die. Your call.”
The king of Aram writes a letter to the King of Israel and sends along ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. I am no biblical scholar, but I think that translates roughly to a crap ton in exchange for a word from the resident prophet. Does this make up for the previous raid? Is it the ancient equivalent of “My bad”?
The king of Israel, however, sees it as a bait for war. The king of Aram is picking a fight. He tears his clothes in despair. Somehow Naaman’s skin condition has now become an international incident.
The prophet Elisha gets word and says basically, “What are you worried about? Am I a prophet or not?”
He sends a message to Naaman that says “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times.”
Naaman is indignant! Go wash in the filthy waters of the Jordan. So very demeaning! He expected the prophet to come out and wave his hand over the spot and call on the Lord, maybe do some incantations, some mysterious ritual, some extra steps, and heal him! He was so angry he left the presence of the prophet. And now for a second time a servant steps up and speaks his mind. He says, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean.’?”
Whether Naaman does it from faith or to prove a point it does not say. But after immersing himself seven times in the Jordan his flesh was restored like that of a child. He was clean.
The number seven speaks of completion. And the waters of the Jordan prefigure baptism. The prophet prefigures Christ. And Naaman prefigures me who always wants to overcomplicate things.
I come to God with my worries, the heaviness in my heart, relationships that lack clarity, situations full of knots, my own sinfulness, and broken heart. And God has the nerve to say something simple like, “Spend time with me.” I am looking for a complicated answer, maybe a book about healing my inner child or about how the system of the world is to blame. Maybe a popular speaker or someone with a bestselling book has the answer to make me feel better. I look at the journey of others and see no similarities, so the answer to my heart must be different and complicated. Something somewhere needs to be deconstructed. Like the instructions to an intricate board game, things need to be sorted out, understood, clarified before I can even begin.
And God simply says, “This is my Body. This is my Blood.”
Somehow God isn’t interested in my plans for deconstruction. My strategies for self-help kind of fall flat. He’s not even interested in how I think it should go. He is interested in healing me. I want it to be more sophisticated, because if it really were that simple and I have suffered so long, it would seem the fault would lie on my own pride and not on the good God who says, “Take and eat.”
In our invitation to Communion we say together with hands raised, “Make us worthy, O Lord God, so that our bodies may be sanctified by your holy Body and our souls purified by your forgiving Blood. May our communion be for the forgiveness of our sins and for new life. O Lord our God, to you be glory forever.”
We call this Sunday “The Healing of the Leper” as the theme is revisited in the Gospel reading of Mark 1. I love this way to start Lent, a season constantly overcomplicated by Christians everywhere. “What are you doing for Lent?” And some sort of answer is expected.
I am giving up coffee.
I am giving up wine.
I am taking a break from social media.
I am going to become the person I portray myself to be on social media.
I am going to pray all the Rosaries I have ever neglected.
I am at the point where I no longer know how to answer the question of what I am doing for Lent. I am fasting, just like you. Just like St. Augustine and St. Teresa and St. John Chrysostom. I am just here, sitting in the desert with Jesus and my temptations, listening to God tell me to chill, to relax, to trust, to be still. Maybe Lent doesn’t have to be a DIY project. Maybe it’s more like humbly dipping myself in the Jordan which doesn’t make sense at all. But it wouldn’t be faith if it fit the feeble confines of my stuffy soul.
I was discussing Lent with a friend, as I grappled with whether or not my health would permit me to undertake the fullness of the Great Fast. He recommended prudence and peace, reminding me that my life was already quite difficult. I said, “Yes, but I want to give Jesus a present!” He replied, “But you are a present.”
And perhaps, just maybe, I could dare to believe that it is that simple.
Jesus offers himself as a gift, disguised as bread and wine. And I offer myself to him, in all the masks I wear to convince myself I have earned my healing. I sit with him. I am healed in the humility of just doing what he says, even when it is too simple.
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