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Monday, third week of Lent

February 28, 2005

Blessed Monday!

Readings:
2 Kings 5:1-15 (Elisha cures Naaman the leper)
Psalm 42:2, 3, 43: 3, 4 “My soul is thirsting for the living God; when shall I see him face to face?”
+Luke 4:24-30 (Jesus is rejected in his hometown)

When Jesus told us that we must become as little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 18:17), one of the main qualities He was looking for was a sense of humility. He was especially looking for the kind of humility that reclaims a sense of awe and wonder in the presence of the familiar. Little children are mesmerized by simple things–a leaf, a caterpillar, a pretty stone–that we don’t even notice anymore. More importantly, they see people, even the ones we dismiss as being unimportant, or even repulsive.

This sense of seeing the familiar with new, wondering, even reverent eyes is conspicuously absent in the stories we read today. Naaman was expecting something dramatic, something worthy of his station as commander of the Syrian armies. Elisha’s command, not even delivered in person, to go take a bath in a muddy river offended the Syrian official because it called him to humility. Naaman thought he knew what he needed, and this didn’t qualify. Likewise, Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth expected Him to put on a performance for them. For thirty years He (and His mother) had lived a perfect life among them. He had demonstrated for them in typical, everyday situations the perfect way to handle joys and sorrows, awkward social situations, business affairs, disagreements, casual conversations and all the other little details of daily life. In short, He had shown them how to live for Heaven.

They hadn’t even noticed.

They weren’t interested in everyday holiness. They didn’t think they needed it. They were looking for something new, something different, something exciting. Isn’t perfect holiness new, different and exciting in a world ravaged by original sin? It is if you have the eyes of a child. Jesus brings this in indirectly by calling His neighbors’ attention to Naaman the Syrian. There were many lepers in Israel in those days, but Elisha didn’t cure any of them. Why not? The story seems to imply that it was because none of them ever asked! They didn’t believe that Elisha could cure them–he was just the weird religious guy down the street. It took the faith of a little girl, captive in a foreign land, to even suggest the idea. It took the humility of Naaman’s other servants to talk their master into following the prophet’s unimaginative instructions. Through that humility (which he owed to his servants!), Naaman found healing, not only physical, but spiritual healing as well, for from that day forward, he worshipped only the Lord, the God of Israel (II Kings 5:17).

Jesus’ neighbors did not. They showed their remarkable lack of humility by trying to throw God off a cliff! If He wouldn’t do anything dramatic for them, they’d take matters into their own hands and invent their own excitement. Even in this attempt they were disappointed. He simply walked away. And they lost everything.

How tragic!

This is the same sort of tragedy that reduced Jesus to tears on His final, triumphant journey to Jerusalem. “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies shall…dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-43. 44). They could not see. Pride, that folly which thinks itself wiser than God, had blinded them, depriving them of the blessings Jesus longed to shower upon them. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken” (Luke 13:34, 35).

We risk drawing down upon ourselves this same tragedy. God is here! Today is the day of our visitation!

Through the simple bath of Baptism our spiritual leprosy (sin) has been washed away and the fountain of living water that Jesus promised the Samaritan woman has welled up within us to eternal life (John 4:14)! Through what looks like a rather plain bit of bread, Jesus nourishes our souls with Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Moreover, He invites us to offer Him to His Father, to participate in His Sacrifice, in payment for our sins. This was brought home to me in one of the prayers of the Divine Mercy chaplet: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” The first time I really heard that prayer, I about dropped my teeth! You mean we can do that?! We can offer God the Father not only Jesus’ Body and Blood, but also His very Soul and Divinity for the forgiveness of our sins?! Not only can we…God wants us to! That’s why He delivered His only Son into our hands, and why He continues to do so on a daily basis. I could go through all seven of the Sacraments, through the sacramentals, through creation itself, and uncover the same sense of wonder. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was on to something when she wrote, “Earth’s crammed with Heaven, and every common bush afire with God”

Oh, how we need new eyes! How we need to draw on the graces of our Baptism, our spiritual rebirth, graces that open to us a new, holy, wide-eyed childhood. Oh holy guardian angels, blessed saints in Heaven, please help us. Pray for us, that we may be receptive before the God who offers us nothing less than Heaven itself.

May we not cling so tightly to our own ideas of what’s best for us that we refuse to receive God’s perfect answer.

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