First Reading: 2Kgs 5:14-17; Psalm: 98. R. v. 2; Second Reading: 2Tim 2:8-13; Gospel: Lk 17:11-19
OBEYING IN DOUBT
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel” (2Kgs 5:15).
There is a hidden truth in this declaration of faith by Naaman, the Syrian army. The above profession of faith presupposes the pre-existence of doubt. Naaman neither believed in the words of the prophet Elisha nor in the healing power of the Jordan River in Israel. He was in doubt and only accepted to immerse himself into the Jordan River by persuasion. His healing however came as a surprise to him and erased his doubt and he declared; “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
There are three ways that God blesses us. God blesses us even when we do not ask. We know there are a lot of favours we receive from God on a daily basis even without asking. The gift of life and the meal for the day are a few examples. Secondly, God blesses us when we ask in faith. Jesus instructed us to ask and we shall receive; to seek and we shall find; and to knock and the door shall be opened to us (Mt 7:7). And that if we had faith as tiny as a grain of mustard seed we shall move mountain (Mt 17:20). So there are times that we necessarily have to ask in order to receive God’s blessings. Finally, however strange, God still can bless us even when we doubt. The case of Naaman is an example.
Healings in the scriptures suggest that faith is a precondition to an answered prayer. The healings of the centurion’s servant (Lk 7:1-10); the woman suffering from a haemorrhage (Mk 5:25-34); and the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7:24-30) are all indicators to this fact. There are also few instances in the scriptures where healing took place without the afflicted asking. Examples are the healing of the man with a withered hand (Mt 12:9-14); the healing of the crippled woman (Lk 13:10-17); and the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (Lk 8:26-39).
But the healing of Naaman was different. The reason was that Naaman was required to go by himself to the Jordan River and immerse himself seven times if he must be healed. Initially, Naaman was angry. He went away and blatantly refused to obey the command of the prophet Elisha. And when he eventually obeyed, he did that based on persuasion and reluctance. Probably, Naaman wasn’t even expecting to get well when he dipped himself seven times into the Jordan River. Perhaps he only obeyed to prove to everyone that Abana and Pharpar, the rivers in Damascus were better than the Jordan River in Israel as he initially claimed. But to his surprise, he was healed of his leprosy. How can we explain this?
In the gospel, when the ten lepers called on Jesus to show them mercy; Jesus commanded them to go and show themselves to the priests. We read that as they went, all ten of them were healed. But perhaps we can inquire into the inner dispositions of these lepers to this command of Jesus. Were all ten convinced of any positive outcome to Jesus’ command? Did all ten of them acted in faith? Were there some who hesitated, doubted and only followed reluctantly upon seeing the other fellow lepers heading their way to see the priests? Or were there some who just like Naaman expected Jesus to touch them or speak some healing words upon them but was disappointed that this didn’t happen? Whatever the case, the good news was that all ten of them were healed. Even though Jesus was disappointed that only one was thankful.
The healings of Naaman and the ten lepers coupled with their discordant and mixed dispositions reveal something about God. God’s mercy is boundless. God recognises that certain conditions and circumstances can hamper our faith; and for this reason cannot disown us in situations like this. As St Paul rightly said in the second reading, ‘we may be faithless but God remains faithful; for he cannot deny himself.’ This is how very much bonded we are with God. God’s nature is love. And this is why God is always faithful; for he cannot deny himself. So God’s faithfulness and love does not depend on our faith.
There is a very important lesson we should take home today from the healing of Naaman. This lesson is simply to obey God even amidst our doubts and personal sentiments. At my first meeting with the youths of our parish, I divided them into groups and distributed a questionnaire to them to investigate the reason as to the poor attendance of youths at Mass. One common reason highlighted by almost everyone was that Mass was boring. I know that most times we can have some exciting or frenzied expectations on how things should be done; even at Mass. But even if the Holy Mass does not meet these expectations, God still expects us to obey his command by our presence at Mass every Sunday. Maybe if we make more effort to key into the spirit of the Holy Mass, our experiences might change.
Prayer can be boring at times especially amidst doubt or when the said prayer doesn’t change anything about our situation. This is usually the most difficult time to pray. However, the experience of Naaman should encourage us to always approach God in prayer even when we are weighed down by doubts and adversities. God understands our doubts and anxieties. And if these failed to deter us from praying to God, then there is some modicum of faith in our action of prayer. God will not overlook this effort as he did not overlook the appeal of that man in the scriptures who cried out in doubt “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24).
It could also be that in our families we do not listen to one another. Some spouses are so rigid and intractable in their opinions and decisions; and refuse to be flexible to the opinions of their partners. This absence of elasticity of mind to dialogue and decision making has led to many regrettable mistakes in families and work places.
Some directors, managers, pastors, teachers, and many others who have people under their control do not listen or give room to dialogue. Imagine if Naaman had stubbornly followed his initial decision of refusing to go to the Jordan River; he would have remained a leper. But Naaman received his healing by listening to his servants who appealed to him to obey the prophet. Sometimes the best advice we get in life comes from those we regard as the most insignificant people. Listening to our subjects does not in any way reduce our worth.
Maybe it is also time we lower our expectations and try to listen to God to know exactly what God is saying to us. Because the reason we are not succeeding or not happy could be because we are not paying attention to what God wants from us. We can pause a little from our expectations and pay attention to our environments, the people around us, our neighbours, friends and families. There could be something we are missing that God wants to point out to us which can change our lives for good. Something we’ve always neglected. But if this change must happen, then we must listen.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord, we believe; help our unbelief. Amen.