Monday of the 3rd Week in Lent
2 Kings 5:1-15; Psalm 42; Luke 4:24-30
In 1963, Erasto Mpemba, a Form 3 (Grade 9) Tanzanian student made a startling discovery in his home economics classroom. He observed that in many cases, hot water froze faster than cold water when placed in the freezer. His friends and teachers did not believe him. When Professor Osborne came to give a talk to the school, Mpemba asked about this phenomenon in front of the whole school but was subject to much ridicule. Professor Osborne was intrigued and went on to do some experiments on this and found some truth to the Mpemba’s observations. Mpemba and Professor Osborne went on to write several scientific papers on this and this observation continues to bear his name till today – the Mpemba Effect. Good things can come from the seemingly common and insignificant.
Much can be said about the readings for today about the faith of foreigners, about how familiarity breeds contempt and many others. However, I’d like to focus on something a little different, a little more insignificant – the servants of Naaman and their role in the whole narrative. What the look at these servants showed me was that quite often, the least and the ordinary people make the biggest difference. Naaman was a great general of Aram, a kingdom at war with Israel. Being a powerful general, he had many servants and practically everything he needed. Except a cure for his leprosy.
It was his wife’s servant, a girl captured from Israel, who gave the idea for Naaman to seek Elisha for the cure. It was her faith that began this process of healing and without this, there would have been no healing at all. The other servants who accompanied Naaman to see Elisha are also important in how they challenged their master to return to Elisha when he wanted to leave in a fit of arrogance. They spoke sense to Naaman, tamed his swelling pride and helped in to get the healing that he sought. All these servants were very much like Mpemba – ordinary people who had extraordinary courage and faith.
We should not lose sight of the fact that we live in the ordinary for most of our lives. Miracles do happen but they are few and far between. Therefore, extraordinary acts of courage and faith should be highlighted and emulated. The servants and Mpemba too could have shut up and allowed things to go on but that would have left a man still suffering and a discovery hidden. There are things that should be shared and we should not be afraid to share them.
When we look at the Gospel, an opposite movement seems to be in place. The people in Nazareth were looking for a sign in a most insincere and manipulative way, much like the Pharisees were in other gospel passages. They were like those who laughed at Mpemba – looking at a person as ordinary and insignificant, unable to do anything beyond their own shortsighted expectations. The Nazarenes in the gospel passage saw only externals – Carpenter Joseph’s son who was quite ordinary. They didn’t want to look beyond the tips of their noses so even miracles would not have worked anyway. They might have brushed miracles off as tricks or coincidences.
They had a certain arrogance to them, like the arrogance in Naaman that caused him to want to reject Elisha’s help at first. This arrogance was aimed at wanting Jesus to please them by doing what they wanted, just as Naaman was hoping that Elisha would pander to his wishes. The difference was that Naaman was able to see past this and acknowledge the wisdom and courage of his servants and later listened to the words of the Prophet. That led to his healing. The same did not happen with the Nazarenes though.
The Nazarenes’ arrogance contrasts with the faith and courage of the servants of Naaman. They were the catalysts for miracles, working with God to strengthen the nascent faith of Naaman. He might have been a touch arrogant at first but struggled with it and expressed a willingness to try something new. That willingness saved not just his skin but his entire life.
We all can be like Mpemba and Naaman’s servants. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said that we can ‘do no great things but only little things with great love’. We need faith and courage in our living of our lives following Christ, even in the face of ridicule or worse. We should not succumb to pride and look down on the commonplace, the ordinary, the banal. To do this, we try to find God in all that we do and to encourage each other to be courageous in living our faith. In this lent, how are we challenged to show faith and courage?