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Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan.

Lenten meditations on justice and peace

March 16, Monday

Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-15; Psalm 42; Luke 4:24-30

Jesus today again shows a certain ability to get to the consciences of people, who sometimes react by rising up against him and driving him out in an attempt to kill him. He reminds those listening of two stories from their history in which persons typically despised in the polite societies of their days (i.e. foreigners and widows) receive special tokens of God's favor.

The Old Testament reading is the story of Naaman cited in the Gospel. The heroes are all without names (perhaps symbolic of their social powerlessness), but they also have all of the true insights to the solutions of the problems faced by their "master". Naaman is a powerful army commander, but he is a leper. Through the agency of a nameless captive Israelite slave girl -- and a "little girl", at that -- he learns that Elisha the prophet can cure his disease. So he gets a letter from his king to the king of Israel (who suspects some kind of plot), and Naaman takes along gifts fit for a king to (presumably) impress the prophet and encourage the healing processes along a bit.

Elisha doesn't even come to the door when Naaman arrives. He sends a messege, "Go wash seven times in the Jordan and you will be clean". But this isn't what Naaman was looking for. He wanted some ritual, some cult, some impressive magic suitable to his dignity, to cure his leprosy. And so he heads off back to Aram, still a leper. His nameless servants, however, save the day by telling their master the facts of life. Look, you came all this way, and if this guy had said "do something extraordinary", you would have been happy to do it. So here he has asked you to do something simple. Since it is so easy, what can it hurt to do it and see what happens.

Naaman learns an important lesson in humility and obedience, and these truths remain important for centuries as his story is told and re-told to new generations. When we ask God for healing, do we ignore his often plain and simple advice? What do we think prophets should look and talk like? Would we recognize a prophet if we saw one? If a prophet sent us on an extraordianry quest, would we go? If a prophet gave us a simple, easy, and mundane task -- would that be easier or harder than the grand quest? Would we react as those in the gathering that were insulted when Jesus pricked a bit at their religious and social hypocrisy? Or would we be as the nameless little girls and servants who understand exactly what is going on and what is supposed to happen?

Prayer intentions today:

+ For all the poor and powerless who speak truth to the rich and powerful, we pray to the Lord.

+ For the Holy Father's intentions for March, especially that human rights will be respected everywhere, we pray to the Lord.

Praxis today:

+ Look for the mundane and simple things that God is calling you to do. Do them, or some of them.

+ Look for "nameless little girls and servants" who might be trying to tell you something important.

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