Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel."
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "A I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, "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 clen'?" So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant."
As the deer longs for running streams,
so my soul is longing for you, O God. (R./)
My soul is thirsting for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God? (R./)
Send forth your light and your fidelity;
they shall lead me on
And bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling-place. (R./)
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./)
Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) was a terrible scourge, which happily has almost entirely disappeared. Contrary to popular belief, it is not very contagious, but the Gospel mentions how widespread it was in biblical times: There were many lepers in the time of Elisha. Poor Naaman had tried everything and almost given up hope of a cure. He seemed rejected even by the prophet Elisha and was on his way home to Syria, angry and discontented, when his staff begged him to do the little thing suggested and bathe seven times in the Jordan. This story teaches two main things: Life has many burdens, but nothing is ever completely hopeless.
Some atheists would like to revile and insult God, if they believed in a God, for making such an unjust and imbalanced world. They feel that if God made this world, he made a hopeless mess of it. But granted the many heartaches and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, through Jesus we learn a more positive view of the world. He encourages us to appreciate the blessings of life (Lilies of Field, Birds of Air, Seasons of Growth & Harvest; Joy of Children; Practice of Mercy and Charity) and to be grateful for each day of life.
The darker side –sickness, misfortune, loneliness and neglect, the pains of old age — he invites us to embrace in a spirit of faith, as a sharing in his cross. Accepting with patience what we cannot change has a therapeutic power for us. Another great teacher of hope, the apostle Paul, held that all of creation "groaning in one great act of giving birth.." All of his hard times as a missionary were seen in this light: "I fill out in my own flesh what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, for the sake of his body." This was the spirit that kept St Francis Xavier going, in Far East, despite sickness, weariness, fever and failure.
In the movie The King and I, the English schoolmistress, Anna, advises the children, "Whenever I feel afraid, I whistle a happy tune…" Good advice, as far as it goes. But our faith invites us to go further and put our hope in the Lord, who will not let us down. The founder of the Passionists, St Paul of the Cross, had a great devotion to Our Lady of Holy Hope, whose heart was always hopeful because: "He who is mighty has done great things in me." No matter what age we’re at, there are wellsprings of hope, both for ourselves and for others. If, like the Syrian army-officer Naaman, we put aside our pride and trust in the Lord, he will never let us down.
Jesus challenged the narrow view the villagers of Nazareth had of God. Just as they felt that Jesus belonged to them and demanded that he do in his home town what they heard he did elsewhere, they were convinced that God belonged only to Israel. When Jesus reminded them of some places in Scripture where God seemed to favour the pagans over the Jewish people they were furious and they forcibly drove Jesus out of town.
His rejection in Nazareth anticipated his even more brutal rejection in Jerusalem. His neighbours’ God was too small and he wanted to broaden their understanding and to realize, as St Peter later said, that "God has no favourites." The God of Jesus was more generous, more expansive, more inclusive than they could imagine. Jesus was trying to show that there was much more to God than we might expect. He is more like the father in the parable of the prodigal son and his mercy is open to all. Jesus’ vision of God is to be still embraced by us, because it is fundamentally "good news" for all who are willing to receive it.