Isn’t it interesting how difficult we make our relationship with God to be? For 2000 years we’ve constantly tried to change the teachings of the Apostles. The Catholic church has held consistently to those teachings, so much so that if you read Justin Martyr and his apology on the Mass written in the mid second century you see almost exactly the same Mass described as you would see in a Catholic church today. We always want something more though don’t we? It needs to be more traditional or more progressive. It needs to be more reverent or more folksie. It needs to be ad orientem or ad populum. We never seem content to hear the simplicity of the Gospel, the simplicity of what the Church truly asks of us.
I kind of see us in the man Naaman who in tomorrow's daily reading is coming to Jerusalem to be healed. He has gotten this dread disease, leprosy. Someone has informed him that the God of the Jews is able to heal, and so he ventures to their kingdom. He finally is sent to the Prophet Elijah. Elijah doesn’t even bother coming out of his abode. Instead he sends a message to Naaman, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.” Naaman is furious! This man didn’t even come out and perform a ritual over him! He didn’t even bother to speak to him or do anything flashy. He didn’t send him on a quest to find some long lost item, or to slay a mythical beast… all he said was, “Go wash in the water.” He begins to list off all the reasons he shouldn’t… first and foremost, his preconceived notion that he and the land he comes from is better than this land. He lists the rivers that he would rather wash in, the ones he thinks are more beautiful, more worthy.
Aren’t we a great deal like Naaman? Jesus gave his Apostles the authority to forgive sin. Then he gave the chair of Peter the authority to bind and loosen all things. The Church hands us the Sacrament, instituted by Christ, of reconciliation. All you have to do is come and confess your sins, say a penance, and your sins will be forgiven. Do we trust in that though? How many have walked away over this very thing? How many times have we come out of confession and said, “All he gave me was a short prayer, I need more.” We don’t trust in the simple words of the Church when it prophesies to us this is all it takes to be healed. We instead try to make it more difficult, I need to go to this place or that place, have this special holy priest do my confession instead.. we shop.. we shop for priests.. we shop for churches.. and eventually, some of us shop for denominations.
Notice that in the Gospel the people again reject Jesus because of where he is from. They reject him as a Prophet, and in the process again reject his condemnation. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “What? Wash in the the Jordan? There are thousands of better rivers back where I am from.” Jesus offers us a simple message. Love God. Love your neighbor. Then we say, that can’t be enough.. The message we have received from the Church doesn’t have enough of me in it.. it’s too much to believe in the simplicity of the message.. to believe that someone so ordinary, so familiar.. just a carpenter from Nazareth could dare to have a message that required us to forgive, and move on. Jesus tells them it was those with faith, regardless of their background, regardless of their ties with the Jewish people.. who were healed, who were saved.
How about us? Do we see it as only us? Only those coming from our part of Christianity as being saved? Only the Catholics? Only the Protestants? Only the ones who wash in this river, but not the other? I say to you that a stream came from Nazareth of clear, living water. A stream that all we have to do is wash in, and believe in, and follow… and our sins are forgiven. We need to trust in his waters, in this simple message, that God’s mercy transcends all of our human notions. We must evangelize. I am not saying that we shouldn’t talk about our faith.. but it’s not so much about book learning, memorization or rote prayers.. as it is about a relationship. That’s what Christ is offering.. that’s what Naaman was learning.... when we do what we need to do be in this right relationship.. then we will be healed… Regardless of who we were, or who we are being at the moment… God’s mercy will wash over us and cleanse us. Then we must take that knowledge out into the world and say with those who believe, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Adonai!” Are you ready to wash in the water? Are you ready to give your life over to God?
To be in a relationship means to spend time with someone. To love them. To care for them. To do the things that makes them happy. If I do things my wife doesn’t like me doing, then our relationship is injured. If however, I learn what makes her happy.. and sacrifice some of those things which I might think I enjoy, to make sure she’s happy.. then our relationship will flourish. It is only when both parties are sacrificing for the other, that everyone's needs are met. The thing is, in our relationship with God, everything that makes him happy.. will make us happy too.. Cause that’s what he wants.. happiness.. not robot movements, or automatons who do things without emotion or thought.. but genuine love. God lived this principle in the person of Christ to show us the ultimate sacrifice, the true genuine love, of giving of oneself completely. Our faith is the response, our sacrifice the response. So let’s use what time we have left in Lent to grow in that love.. to fast from those things which are harmful to us, and to add in those prayers and activities which help us to grow in covenantal fidelity to the Lord.
His servant and yours,
“He must increase, I must decrease.”