04 March 2013

Obedience is a cure-all

3rd Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The King of Israel is angry. Naaman is angry. The people in the synagogue are angry. All of these biblical players are angry; for different reasons, each is upset, each feels put-upon, or disappointed; filled with fury and prepared for violence. The king rips his clothes in frustration. Naaman storms off, disillusioned. The synagogue congregation turns into a riotous mob. Everyone is stressed to their limits. The king is shown to be powerless over disease. Naaman is exhausted from traveling and dying of leprosy. And the mob is riled up by one man accusing it of spiritual infidelity. It seems as though peace has not only been forgotten but brutally beaten and left for dead. We begin this work week, the third week of Lent, plunged into the bitterness and bile of human weakness and failure. No one relishes the possibility of being exposed as a fraud, as an impotent actor in their own lives. But if Lent isn't the season for us to stare into a mirror and honestly calculate our place in God's holy family, then what are these 40 days for? Are you angry, disappointed, full of fury, exhausted, powerless, bitter? Now's the season to rend your garments and seek the cleanliness that obedience to God provides. 

Take Naaman, for example. He's a decorated military man. Highly honored by the King of Aram. He's a hero among his people, valient. Has everything a man of his day could want. He also has a disfiguring, incurable disease: leprosy. Naaman hears from his wife's Jewish slave-girl that there is a prophet in Samaria who can cure him. This prophet, Elisha, tells Naaman to bathe seven times in the River Jordan. Disappointed, he balks at this prescription, “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?” Is he wrong here? Did he travel so far only to be told to go wash in a river? Fortunately, his servants get it, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?” He washes in the Jordan, and he is healed. What heals him? Not the magical-mystical waters of the Jordan. He is healed b/c he obeyed—heard and listened to—the word of God's prophet. Had he listened to his own disappointment and anger, he would've returned to Aram a leper. Naaman's pride, prestige, wealth, and his bitter disillusionment almost cost him his life. But he listens to God's servant and lived. 

Yesterday, we heard Jesus tell the parable of the fruitless fig tree. The little tree gets one more season to produce good fruit or be chopped down. Why couldn't the tree produce its fruit? Not enough cultivation or fertilizer? We can't know for sure. But we do know that the orchard owner has no use for fruitless fruit trees. What prevents you from producing good fruit? The King of Israel is a suspicious sort, shown to be powerless. Naaman is poisoned with pride and disappointment. The congregation that runs Jesus out of town is unfaithful, refusing to listen to his Word. All three of our biblical players fail to obey, fail to listen to what God has to say to them. Only Naaman manages to subdue his disobedience and find healing. If this third week of Lent is to be a time for contemplating your place in God's holy family, then spend some time contemplating how well you listen, how well you obey what God has to say to you. Anger, bitterness, disappointment—all these deafen your ears, darken your eyes. They poison your spirit and leave you unable and unwilling to be healed. Listen to God, not b/c it's convenient or logical or b/c it makes you feel good. Listen to God b/c obeying His Word is your truest path to holiness, your straightest approach to a glorious Easter morning. 

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  1. "Listen to God b/c obeying His Word is your truest path to holiness...."

    You have rendered me speechless - all I can do is smile, you know ... THAT smile ... the one that comes from a little kick that points me in the right direction.

    Luckily even when I can't talk, I can nearly always type. Lucky you ;-).

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