Monday of the Third Week of Lent
God wants to heal us. Just as importantly, God wants us to understand how he will heal us. And so, to accomplish this second purpose, we are given the story of Naaman the Syrian and his healing.
The story begins when God favors Naaman in a battle against Israel. What a remarkable detail. God favors Naaman, a Syrian and an enemy of God’s chosen nation. Naaman claims a victory over Israel because of God’s favor, and as a consequence he takes as a slave a young Israelite girl. The girl tells Naaman that the God of Israel can heal his leprosy. Aram, King of Syria, sends Naaman to the King of Israel (the nation the Syrians just defeated in battle) to ask for help. The King of Israel tears his garments at the request; he can’t imagine how Naaman might find healing in Israel. But the prophet Elisha hears of Naaman’s request and sends for him. Naaman is told to wash in the waters of the River Jordan. Naaman can’t believe that the River Jordan, as opposed to the many beautiful rivers of his own country, will heal his leprosy. He is incredulous. But other servants come to Naaman and encourage him to follow Elisha’s directions. Soon enough, after so many dramatic and unexpected turns of events, Naaman is healed.
The story of Naaman the prophet helps us to understand how God will heal us. A victory of Israel, a seeming tragedy for God’s chosen people, becomes the source of remarkable grace and conversion. How will God heal us? We won’t know until it happens. The key for us is to let God work, to remain open to the designs of providence that are far beyond our capacity for understanding. Our healing comes from our making the decision to let God work in our lives, on our lives, and in the world around us, and to not get in the way. Because the day might come when a seeming tragedy becomes the very means through which we are healed.
I was speaking to a friend recently, who told me that she is going to allow herself to remain a pawn in the chess game that God is playing with her life, because if she had written out the strategy that has brought her to where she is right now, it would look very silly. We don’t know what plans God has in store for us; we wouldn’t understand them if we did. But the more open we remain to the designs of his providence, the more will we experience the grace of healing and conversion in our lives.
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
I am stupid when it comes to math. The reason I need a finance committee at the parish is because any third grader would defeat me in a basic math exam. I could perform open-heart surgery more successfully than I could add or subtract fractions at this point.
The reason I am stupid when it comes to math is that I never tried to remember the rules of math. My parents and teachers, to my chagrin, always knew this. You can’t perform mathematical functions unless you memorize the rules of math, and you can’t memorize the rules of math unless you try to memorize the rules of math. For years, I told myself that my struggles with math came from some natural limitation. And maybe it is right to say that I lack a natural gift for formulas and equations and calculations. But never trying to memorizing the rules didn’t help matters.
Where does the wicked servant in the Gospel go wrong today? Well, at a very basic level he seems to forget what the king has done for him. He forgets. And as a consequence of his forgetting, the worst kind of sin takes root. For these weeks, we are moving through the Book of Exodus in the Office of Readings. Just today, the Israelites forgot how God had saved them from slavery in Egypt, and fashion a golden calf to worship instead of the God who loves them. I said to a friend yesterday that from forgetting comes doubt and anxiety for the people of Israel, and from the doubt and anxiety comes so many kinds of sin and vice.
But to forget something is, at some level, a consequence of not trying to remember. To remember is an action; it takes work; it takes effort. We have to try to remember. And only a fool, only someone stupid, would make the choice to let ourselves forget what God has done for us, what other people have done for us. So, it seems to me that at least one moral of the parable in today’s Gospel is that we can’t be stupid; we can’t let ourselves forget the most basic of gifts and graces. We need to put in the effort to remember what God has done for us, what other people have done for us, so that we can go and forgive our brother or sister from our heart.
Homilies delivered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.