Our first reading today from the Book of Kings about Naaman the Syrian is one of the stories that caused trouble for Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. He questioned the faith of the people of Nazareth and they were angered enough to want to throw him off the cliff outside the town.
Naaman’s story is filled with interesting lessons – the little Jewish slave girl who brings the great general with leprosy to Israel is a wonderful apostle, Israel’s king terrified about the political consequences of the visit is a good example of how a political viewpoint can blind you to everything else.
Naaman himself was angry because the prophet never came to the door when he appeared with his big military retinue, then he was told to go and wash seven times in the Jordan. The waters of the Jordan, which he didn’t think much of, cured him. God works in sacraments that appear so small. He brings new life in the waters of Baptism.
Our reading today, though, omitted part of the story I like. Returning to the Prophet Elisha after he’s cured, Naaman wants to shower the prophet with gifts, but he won’t take any. “Naaman said: “If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth,* for your servant will no longer make burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD.”
“Two mule-loads of earth.” The Empress Helena brought earth from the site of Calvary to the church of the Holy Cross in Rome in the 4th century when she brought relics of the cross to be honored there. The earth is still there.
We’ve placed rocks from many countries of the world in our Mary Garden at the foot of the statue of Mary and her Child. (Above)
Earth itself is holy. So simple it can be ignored. Yet all life depends on 6 inches of soil. Of all the memorabilia Naaman could have taken from Israel, he took two mule-loads of earth. He learned to appreciate the gifts of God that appear so small. He had it right.