Naaman and Obedience, Monday of the 3rd Week of Lent, March 27, 2000

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Domus Sanctae Mariae Guadalupensis, Rome
Monday of the Third Week of Lent
March 27, 2000
2 Kings 5:1-15; Lk 4:24-30

In today’s Gospel, Jesus states clearly that no prophet gains acceptance in his native place, that those who should be closest to Jesus often are the ones who reject him, that those who should have the greatest reason to hear His Word and put it into practice are commonly those who are the first to disobey. The Church gives us this reading as we begin the third week of our Lenten journey to remind us not only that Christ, like Elijah and Elisha, was sent to save all people and not just the Jews, but also that this time of Lenten purification is meant ultimately to help us become more lovingly obedient to the Word of God in our lives. This obtains for all Christians, but it is particularly relevant to us, who have vowed or promised to be obedient to God through our superiors or ordinaries. And hence it is worthwhile for us as we begin the third lap of our six-lap race toward Calvary to pause and reflect on our notion, purpose and practice of Christian obedience.

The story of the leper Naaman in the first reading can get us right into the heart of the matter of loving obedience. He receives from Elisha a command that strikes him as humanly absurd and stupid. “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan and your flesh will heal and you will be clean.” From a human point of view, washing one’s leprous sores in the filthy Jordan river — not once, not twice but a humiliating seven times — made no sense at all. He got angry at such a request, so angry that he not only thought about leaving, but began to leave. But his faithful servants, as we read, reasoned with him and persuaded him to have faith in Elisha’s command and Naaman’s eventual faithful trust was rewarded.

So, too, in our living out our promises and vows of obedience we will be asked to do several things that we might think are humanly stupid, possibly sometimes even humiliating. I could preach probably preach until Easter of the times this has been the case in my life! I’m sure you’ve all got your own stories as well. The story of Naaman teaches us, I think, two important lessons on how to approach these occasions. The first is his honesty, to admit, at least to himself, that he doesn’t see from a human point of view the point of the request. Such honesty will prevent any neuroses from forming in us, which could come about if we bury whatever anger we might have at such a request underneath the surface. It will also be the only way we can transform merely external obedience to an internal obedience that will make us truly free. God never calls us to blind obedience, although — and this is the transition to the second thing Naaman shows us — he may call us to walk by faith and not by sight in such obedience. Naaman obeyed ultimately when he recognized that, even though he didn’t understand the purpose of the command, he knew the command came from the Lord whom he could trust in faith. So, too, with us. When we obey requests that make no sense to us, we do so because we’re lovingly obeying the Lord himself whom we trust implicitly. When we walk by faith in such obedience, our eyes will opened to see wisdom we didn’t perceive before, our reason will be helped by grace to recognize that it find its ultimate justification in this faith and trust in God, and our will moved to grow in love through closer adhesion to the Lord as our sole motive. It’s always rather easy to obey in things that make sense to us, because we would probably carry out such deeds anyway, and hence there’s the risk that we would be doing the activity, not out of the grace-filled practice of humble obedience, but for merely human even self-interested reasons. God sends us some requests that make little or no sense to us so that we might grow in the theological virtues that are the direct fruits and inspiration of the virtue of obedience.

And so at this Mass we can turn to the Lord to thank him for the great gift he has given to us in our promise or vow of obedience, which is a means by which we can grow in love of him through overcoming our own self-will so that we can say, with every part of us, “thy will be done,” in all things. Loving, trusting, filial obedience is a great gift by which we can become much more conformed to Jesus, who is the goal of Lent and the goal of our entire Christian life. Jesus came to do the will of the Father. His food was the will of the Father. This King of kings and Lord of Lords ultimately assumed the nature of a slave, obeyed human parents, obeyed the high priest, and, in learning obedience through what he suffered, obeyed even to death, death on a Cross! This was, as St. Paul says, an ignominious scandal to the Jews and a stupid folly to the Gentiles. But this obedience, in which we are called to share, is the power and the wisdom of God for us who believe. We see this truth clearly at Mass, which is the supreme sign of our obedience to Jesus, who on the night he gave us his flesh and blood for the first time, commanded us to do this in memory of him. As we do that now, let us ask him to fill us with himself so that we might pronounce fiat and obey him in all things. “Those who merely say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” May the Lord Jesus himself, who obeyed the Father perfectly, help us to obey that same Father in heaven with childlike confidence and trust, so that we might say now and forever, “thy will be done!,” “thy will be done!,” “thy will be done! on earth as it is in heaven.”