As we enter the third full week of Lent, the Scripture readings which the Church proclaims slip into yet another reason for this holy season. Not only are we practicing the three-fold charter of Lent (prayer, fasting and almsgiving), but we are also preparing for the renewal of our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. So from time to time, we will hear stories that remind us of our baptism and our participation through baptism in the death and rising of Jesus.
Today we hear the endearing story of Naaman the Syrian. He was a leper; in other words, he was afflicted with a skin condition which made him an "unsafe" character in public society because his condition might have been contagious. The prophet asks him to bathe himself in the Jordan River, dipping himself seven times in the waters of that body of water. Because he is a Gentile, he initially refuses, thinking that the rivers of his own country are superior. He reconsiders at the urging of his servants. When he is cleansed, he gives praise to God and asks for a cart load of dirt to take home for him. (It was the opinion of people at that time that gods could only be worshipped in the country which worships that god. By taking the dirt home with him, he takes a part of the country with him.)
The Gospel today cites the healing of Naaman inciting the crowd to anger. The people who hear Jesus preach are guilty of the same sin which initially kept Naaman from accepting the prophet's words. They believe themselves superior to the Gentiles. This "better than" kind of thinking is characteristic of so many different peoples and nations.
Baptism is offered on a level playing field. All baptized persons are saved through faith, no matter what their country of origin or their ethnicity. There can be no "better than" thinking among baptized people. If we believe that faith saves us, then we must also believe that it saves all people. There is no room for racial or ethnic prejudice among the children of God. God knows not such differences. However, racial and ethnic differences are not the only boundaries that are broken down through the waters of baptism. It makes no difference whether we are rich or poor, well-educated or not, male or female, able bodied or disabled; all baptized persons who believe in Jesus Christ are the same in the eyes of God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator