One night, when I was young, my friends and I decided to go to play Bingo at a local Byzantine church. We had nothing to do (and were still under 21, so Atlantic City was out), we figured it'd be fun.
So there we were. In a church hall. Cigarette smoke hanging like a haze in the air. If you've ever been to Bingo (or worked a Bingo as part of a deal to lower your child's Catholic school tuition), you know the rest of the story:
- Upon walking into the room, we lowered the average age of the hall by 15 years.
- We only played like 2 cards each. "Specials? What the heck are specials? You mean they're not included in the price?"
- We sat in seats that "belonged" to other people. Not that they were there. Not that their names were on the chairs. Not that there was any "Reserved" signs on the tables that we ignored. We were "shoo-ed" away from the first three tables we wanted to sit at, because the same people put their same butts in those same chairs for years.
- We didn't have the proper Bingo equipment: some sort of craft show produced carry-all. A collection of pictures of children and grandchildren (heck, they could have just been the pictures that come with a new wallet, for all we knew). Nor did we have Bingo chips to mark the cards.
- We made noise. Evidently you're not supposed to talk to each other during Bingo. To think, we could have gone to the library on a Friday night.
- We didn't join in the attacks on the Bingo caller: "You're calling the numbers too fast, too slow, with too much of an accent, with food in your mouth, etc.
- AND THEN THE WORST OFFENSE POSSIBLE: one of us actually won. We acted like he just hit the game winning home run in game 7 of the World Series, high five-ing each other. But then we saw the looks, the stares, the glares. We're not supposed to win. We just showed up tonight. We only played 2 cards. We didn't have the chachkis that invoke the bingo-gods from on high. In short: we were OUTSIDERS who got something.
Understand that, and you get Jesus bringing up Naaman the Syrian in today's Gospel. They thought God needed them more than they needed God, and Jesus let 'em have it, to the point that they wanted to kill him.
Today's First Reading tells the story of Naaman that Jesus alludes to in the Gospel, the story that everyone in that Synagogue in Nazareth knows. Naaman was a non-Jew and the commander of the King of Aram's army, and a leper. Eventually Elisha the prophet will cure him, and there's some interesting lessons we learn from it:
- The God of Israel cures a Gentile. God has power over everyone.
- Naaman brought loads of treasure, presuming a cure would have a price to it. How many people treat God as if He is a commodity they can "buy" (or "rent") as needed?
- Naaman doesn't have to renounce his former faith before God cures him. Nor does he have to go through a catechumenate before getting cured. Nor does he need a "sponsor certificate".
- Naaman only finds out about this by a seemingly coincidental chain of events: Naaman's wife's servant girl starts the ball rolling. But then the King of Israel thinks this is just a set-up to provoke a fight between the nations, and his lamenting is what gets Elisha's attention. Naaman then bounces from the King to Elisha. Sometimes the craziest quests bring us the greatest victories.
- Naaman's retinue goes from a royal palace to Elisha's simple front door. Sometimes the thing we're looking for can be found in the place we least expect to find it.
- Elisha doesn't talk directly to Naaman. Nor does he see him, touch him, or say magic words. Remember, the prophet is only God's mouthpiece. It's God that is curing Naaman.
- Naaman is offended that Elisha won't come out to see him, and is ready to go home. If Naaman's servants weren't there to convince him to bathe in the Jordan, he'd still be a leper. How many people don't go to Confession because they don't think God can forgive them?
- God doesn't just remove the leprosy and restore his skin to what it was: the skin of a middle aged man. His skin is restored above and beyond, to that of a baby. No need to buy Clinique for Naaman on his birthday! When God gives, He gives in abundance.
Three more weeks until Holy Week begins. Get clean in Confession!