Obstacles and Openness

Today’s first Mass reading is the story of the encounter between the prophet Elisha and Naaman, and Jesus alludes to this passage in today’s Gospel. My friend and colleague Joel Nichols wrote the following reflection as part of daily Lent reflections sponsored by the Office of Spirituality of the University of St. Thomas. The questions he poses at the end are great ones to sit with today. (The following words are all Joel’s, not mine.)

Today’s reading recounts the story of Elisha, the prophet in Israel, and Naaman, an army commander from Israel’s enemy. Naaman has leprosy. The tale comes to its pinnacle as Elisha tells Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman initially objects but then relents and receives healing, declaring: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” 

Luke’s Gospel reading alludes to this Elisha/Naaman story. Jesus, speaking at his hometown synagogue, pronounces how a prophet is not accepted in his own city, illustrated by how God met the needs of a non-Israelite widow in a famine (through Elijah) and cured the outsider Naaman (through Elisha). Right on cue, the crowd rises up in fury to reject Jesus. 

I am struck at how the Gospel passage seems pointed right at me – one who is an “insider.” Those of us who read these Lenten Reflections, who undertake additional practices, who strive (even in good faith!) to better connect with God – we play the role of insiders in the story. We’re not Naaman – that person who doesn’t listen well at first but eventually responds – but instead seem cast as those who heard Jesus speak and were so put off by Jesus’ words that we lash out. Could this be true? I sure don’t like the idea that I (and you?) might be the one resisting, or the one having trouble hearing the message of Jesus. 

So I’m considering: 

  • What are my obstacles to listening well? 
  • What is God’s message that I resist? 
  • How do I get off track in seeing where God is at work? 
  • Do I struggle to see God acting in ways contrary to my expectations? 

May God give us insight into our obstacles and an openness to see his grace to all.

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