Faithfully Trusting in God’s Messianic Mercy, Third Monday of Lent, February 29, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Holy Family Parish, Manhattan
Monday of the Third Week of Lent
February 29, 2016
2 Kings 5:1-15, Ps 42, Lk 4:24-30


This morning’s homily was not recorded. The following points were attempted: 

  • The third Sunday of Lent begins a new phase in our Lenten pilgrimage. The first two-and-a-half weeks of Lent, from Ash Wednesday through Saturday of the Second Week, are all about Jesus’ forceful call to conversion, to repent, to responding to God’s gift of mercy, and through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, becoming with God’s help holy as he is holy, teleios (fit for our purpose, “perfect”) as he is teleios, merciful as he is merciful. Beginning on the Third Sunday — which in Cycle A features the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman, which the Church recommends priests use at some point during the third week in Years B and C —  we begin a specifically baptismal itinerary, helping the Elect preparing for baptism to crave ever more the Living Water, Jesus, about which we spoke yesterday. It’s also a chance for those of us who have already entered the saving waters to ponder anew the crucial continuing relevance of our own baptism not as an event from many years ago but as the definitive reality of our life. During these upcoming three weeks, through Friday of the Fifth week, God wants to help the Elect and us to say, with the Samaritan Woman, “Give us that water always!,” the Living Water that begins to well up within us to eternal life on the day of our baptism. God wants each of us to say with the words of today’s Psalm, “Athirst is my soul for the living God!” Today’s readings help us to examine whether we have a faith that thirsts for God.
  • Jesus returned to his hometown synagogue on the Sabbath, opened up the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, read the section from Isaiah 61 that focuses on what the Messiah will do when at last he comes and then said “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” At first the people were amazed. But then they began to murmur, “Isn’t this the carpenter?” They began to take offense at him because he was one of them and how could one of them actually be the long awaited one? Their hearts began to harden. They weren’t responding with faith. That’s why Jesus today said to them, “No prophet is accepted in his native place.” Their admiration eventually turned to resentment and hatred. Their hardened hearts soon became homicidal as they tried to murder him by throwing him head first off a cliff. He came to his own, St. John would say, but his own didn’t accept him. They already had fit him in an unthreatening box and they weren’t going to let him escape.
  • Jesus gave two examples in the Gospel of the type of open, faithful, thirsting hearts that God expects. The first is the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16). During a famine, God sent the Prophet Elijah to her home. Elijah asked her to prepare for him some water and some bread, but the woman replied that all she had was a little flour and a little olive oil left and she was preparing to make her last meal for her and her son before they would starve to death in the famine. Elijah told her not to be afraid because God would take care of all three of them, that the jar of flour would not be used up or the jug of oil run dry until the Lord sends rain. With trust, the woman did as Elijah said and the three of them survived for three and a half years. Jesus implies in his example that God wouldn’t have found such total trust in Israel and so Elijah had to go to a foreigner, someone who would believe in God enough not to presume he or she knew God’s designs but rather to do what the Prophet commanded. Do we have the trust in God to do what he commands us through his prophets?
  • The second example Jesus employs is even stronger, and it’s based on what we read in today’s first reading. Jesus says that there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha, but the only one who was cured was Naaman the Syrian, presumably because he was the only one who would come with sufficient faith to be cured by God. That faith wasn’t easy to come by, as we see in account from the Second Book of Kings. Naaman was a very successful general of the King of Aram’s army and came down with an unbelievable amount of wealth — ten thousand days wages, six thousand gold pieces and ten very precious festal garments — seeking a cure for his leprosy at the instigation of one of the Jewish servants of the Naaman’s wife. He was hoping initially to buy a miracle or to get one done by the very impressive external status of the petitioner. Elisha the Prophet, however, knew that what he needed was the humble faith necessary to allow God to work. So Elisha didn’t even come to the door to greet him — and it’s not like he was on the 88th floor of an apartment complex but in a small place from which he wouldn’t even more feet to greet his supplicant — simply sending a note to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. At first Naaman was outraged, thinking he had wasted his time and so much hope coming down, to be asked to do something so simple as bathe in a river when there were rivers back in Syria. But the people in his retinue reasoned with him that if he would have done something hard or spectacular, he should have the faith to do something simple and straightforward. And he had the faith and humility to change and to bathe — and on the seventh washing his leprous flesh became baby skin, totally restored.
  • That whole miracle points to the type of faith we need to have with regard to the great gift of baptism and to the type of merciful healing Christ wants to give us. To human logic, the claims of baptism seem preposterous. Just like Naaman initially scoffed at what washing seven times in the Jordan river could do, so we can say with regard to the far greater claims of baptism, “How can a few drops of water on someone’s head and a short prayer [“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”] really totally cleanse someone’s soul, make someone a temple of God’s presence, incorporate someone into Christ’s mystical body, and implant within the person a stream of Living Water flowing up to eternal life?” But that’s exactly what it does. We’re called constantly to grow in our faith-filled recognition of what happened on the day of our baptism and how it’s supposed to impact our life today. Without a doubt, Naaman would never have forgotten the day he was cured through obeying Elisha and bathing seven times. We should never forget the even greater miracle that happened to us. And we should welcome Jesus within us in baptism, not like the Nazarenes who rejected him, but like the one Nazarene girl did when Jesus took on her own flesh. Jesus the Merciful Messiah incorporates us to him in baptism.
  • But it’s not only with regard to baptism in which we should have faith but so many other interactions when God has us do something that on the surface seems different than the way we would expect but that has unbelievable consequences for us if we do so with faith. We might think that praying, fasting and giving alms are all really small, somewhat inconsequential practices, but when we do them with faith they can conform us to Jesus in his praying, fasting and self-giving.  We might think that for our post-baptismal sins to be forgiven we should have to walk barefoot all the way to California, but Jesus calls us to receive his mercy by confessing our sins to his priests to whom he has given the Holy Spirit for the remission of sins. We might think that in order to get to heaven, we need to do a whole series of absolutely heroic deeds, but Jesus says that we need to love and care for him in the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, ill or imprisoned. We might think that for our spiritual nourishment, the most important thing would be to read an entire library of spiritual books, but Jesus says it is to make him in the Holy Eucharist the source and the summit of our life.
  • One of the most important parts of the Lenten conversion God is asking of us is that we learn how to trust in him and in what he says and does rather than try, like the Nazarenes, to box him into our own limited categories. We need to approach him with faith rather than hardened hearts. To accept Jesus with honor means to recognize who he is, to thirst for him, to welcome him and what he teaches, and to obey him with faith. As we prepare to receive him now within ourselves, the place he has deigned to make a tabernacle of his holy presence, we ask him to increase our faith and gratitude in what he has already done for us and in us and to increase our trust and longing for what he still very much desires to do, in this Jubilee of Mercy and beyond!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
2 KGS 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.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 42:2, 3; 43:3, 4

R. (see 42:3) Athirst is my soul for the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
As the hind longs for the running waters,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
Send forth your light and your fidelity;
they shall lead me on
And bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling-place.
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
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!
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?

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