The people of Nazareth react in two very different ways to Jesus' announcement of salvation. Jesus has just read the passage from Isaiah that announces redemption, healing and grace from the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-2). At first, the people spoke well of Jesus and pondered his words of wisdom. This benevolence changes quickly when Jesus implies that the Jews have rejected him just as they rejected the prophets. Jesus does this by alluding to two prophets who were instruments of God's power for Gentiles: Elijah provides the widow of Sidon with food; Elisha sends Naaman the Syrian to the Jordan to be cleansed of his leprosy.
The Jews of Nazareth were pleased with Jesus' message of salvation and divine favor, but become indignant when this salvation and favor is reserved for the Gentiles. During his public ministry Jesus will seek out the lost tribes of Israel and preach the Gospel of God in Galilee and Jerusalem. He will cast out demons, heal the sick, feed the hungry and forgive sins. After his passion and resurrection, he will send out his disciples to all nations. The communion antiphon invites all nations to praise God for his mercy and love: "O praise the Lord, all you nations, for his merciful love towards us is great".
Jesus' great commission sends out the disciples not just to preach the Gospel, but also to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Naaman's cleansing in the Jordan foreshadows this great mystery. All nations are introduced into God's family, not through the circumcision of the flesh, but through faith in one, true God and through Baptism.
Naaman is ignorant of the importance of the Jordan river and its place in salvation history. It was the river the people of Israel crossed over into the promised land of Canaan (Joshua 3:17), ending their 40 year exodus in the desert. It was the river that Elisha struck with Elijah's cloak (1 Kings 2:13-14). It will be the river of John the Baptist's ministry and where Jesus is proclaimed the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:28-29). We learn from this that God's action in history and in the Sacraments is both simple and profound. The simple action of cleansing with water and invoking the name of the Trinity is now elevated to the Sacrament by which we are purified from the stain of original sin and made sons and daughters of God.
Today's psalm is taken from Book Two of the psalms and refers to the time of the fall of the Kingdom and taking of Israel into exile. The Psalmist longs for God's dwelling place; his soul thirsts for God. Psalm 42 is connected especially with the first reading as it mentions the Jordan river: "My soul is cast down within me, therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar" (Psalm 42:6). The psalmist looks forward to the day when he can once again approach God's altar and praise him as his Savior and Lord. That day will ultimately come with Jesus' passion, death and resurrection, when all nations will worship God in Spirit and truth. Through the preaching and extension of the Kingdom of God, salvation reaches the ends of the earth.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].