It is said that, “Nothing worth doing in life is easy,” and oftentimes that feels true, especially when we are trying to follow the path of the Crucified One. But the story of Namaan, from the Second Book of Kings, should prompt us to ask: Is following Christ difficult because what He asks of us is so arduous or is it because we choose to make things more difficult than they need to be?
Namaan is commanded by the prophet Elisha to wash seven times in the Jordan and in a fit of anger rejects that order and leaves the prophet. During this season of Lent the Church asks all the members of Christ’s body to pray, fast, and give alms to the poor. On their face, these are not difficult tasks. Spending 30 minutes out of the 1,440 in a day to talk to God is not a monumental commitment. Nor is feeling a little hunger from time to time. And forgoing the purchase of a CD or a venti-macchiatto-grande-latte-expresso from Starbucks so that some poor person can use the money to eat scarcely seems like the stuff of greatness. Yet why is it that these simple sacrifices, these simple obediences, can seem like such a burden?
Namaan’s servants give us a vital clue when they point out to their master his willingness to do something dramatic and difficult in order to be cured. Namaan is willing to do something himself that is proportionate to the task of curing him of leprosy. And that is the problem. He, Namaan, would readily perform a great and mighty deed to be cured and thus miss the point entirely. It is God who heals us. We do not heal ourselves. What God ultimately wants is a relationship with us and, since the Fall, God has used our suffering and weakness to turn us back to Himself. St. Paul says, “But we hold this treasure [the knowledge of the glory of God] in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us,” (2 Cor 4:7). What allows Namaan to experience God’s healing touch is the virtue of obedience. Once he opens himself to God by obeying His command, he is able to see the power of God and know with certainty that there is “no God in all the earth, except in Israel,” (2 Kings 5:15).
More needs to be said about this particular virtue. Namaan’s healing does seem all out of proportion because a simple willingness to obey, and grudgingly at that, results in a miraculous healing. In the life, suffering, and death of Christ we get to see the true source of obedience’s power. When Christ is in agony in the garden of Gethsemane He prays to the Father and asks that the cup of His suffering might be taken away, “yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39) It is the obedient love of Christ that won for us our salvation. Jesus said to His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 15:14) Obedience, therefore, turns out not to be such a little thing. Rather it is the fruit of love and the way to salvation.