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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Where You Stumble, Dig for Treasure

Robert Barron - Where You Stumble, Dig for Treasure

Robert Barron - Where You Stumble, Dig for Treasure

Peace be with you. Friends, our first reading for the Sunday is a little section of the marvelous story of Naaman the Syrian. You can find it in the second Book of Kings in the cycle of stories about Elisha, the prophet. Now it's not really a well known story, but it should be because it really punches above its weight spiritually. There's an awful lot we can derive from it. What I want to do is just walk you through the story and draw out some of these spiritual implications.

First of all, who was Naaman the Syrian? Well, he was very prominent player. He was the head of the Syrian army at a time when Assyria was a major political power and they were a fierce opponent of Israel. Think of maybe the commander of the Chinese army today or of the Russian army, some mighty force that we would see as an enemy force. That's Naaman. Accomplished, smart, courageous, probably someone that everybody admired, they feared a little bit, big dealer. That's Naaman the Syrian. But then we're told he had leprosy. So here's this very prominent player, this important figure, this much admired and feared commander, but he has this humiliating, debilitating and disfiguring disease.

Imagine how leprosy would've mortified someone like Naaman the Syrian who depended upon the impression he made publicly. It was a weakness. It was a humiliation. It was a darkness in his life. First spiritual lesson. I don't care who you are. I don't care where you are, how high you've gotten, how admired you are. We've all got leprosy. Everybody has got something. It might be a physical ailment. It might be a psychological struggle. It might be an obsession. It might be an addiction. It might be a hurt we can't get over. I don't know what it is. St. Paul called his, the thorn in the flesh. I've always loved that. We've all got one. We've all got a thorn in the flesh. There's something that just bugs us that's not right, that we wish would go away.

Now, here's the thing, here's the spiritual lesson. Very often, everybody, it's precisely the thorn in the flesh. It's precisely the leprosy, precisely our weakness that will bring us to God. God is not opposed to our accomplishment. Don't get me wrong. "The glory of God, is a human being fully alive", St. Irenaeus. However, our very strength can sometimes be a weakness because our very strength can lead us away from God. If we say, well, my life is great. Everything's going fine. I'm totally self-sufficient. Who needs God? Which is why very often, and you see it in the lives of the saints all the time. Very often, it's our weakness, it's our leprosy. It's our debility that leads us to God.

You know that line from the spiritual tradition? I quote it a lot. Is where you stumble, that's where you dig for treasure. Think of Naaman the Syrian, this great accomplished figure, but it's not in his accomplishments that he's going to find the real treasure. It's in his weakness, in the leprosy. Now why should this be true? Here's the basic answer, because it inculcates in him humility. What's the greatest sin? It's not lust. We tend to think that way, but it's not. The great spiritual masters, the capital sin of capital sins is pride. Why? Because pride means I turn myself into God. Therefore the greatest virtue is humility.

When I lower myself in the presence of God, I open myself to the influence of God. So watch this now in the story of Naaman the Syrian. At every step, he's going to be humbled. And it's his very weakness that leads him along this path, the path of salvation. So the first step is, he hears from this little Israelite slave girl about a powerful prophet in Israel who might be able to cure him. Now we have to unpack that a bit. We say, oh, this nice kid gave him this information, but your Naaman the Syrian. An Israelite slave girl would be about as low on the social ladder as you could imagine. A child, and in that time, a female child and more to it, a slave female child, there'd be nobody less significant. And yet, she's the one who speaks to him of this healing prophet in Israel.

In his humility. He says, okay, I'll listen to you. Normally would Naaman the Syrian, this great general of the army listen to this little nobody? But he does. His humility now opening him to salvation. Well, following her advice, he comes to Israel. Now keep something in mind. Here's the general of an enemy army who comes into Israel. Now what he's doing is going to the king to ask permission, "May I see this great prophet of yours"? Well, imagine the reaction of the king of Israel. "What are you doing here? You're the general of the enemy army. What? You want to be cured of leprosy? You're undoubtedly a spy. You're coming in here to spy on our country so that you can invade us".

And I know naturally, naturally he'd feel that way. So that king blows up and he humiliates, he embarrasses Naaman the Syrian. Now, if he allowed his pride to have control over him, what would've happened? He would've just stormed off and gone back home. Or maybe he'd raise up his army and invade Israel because of the insult. No, he takes it. He takes it in humility. But Elisha, the prophet, the one he had come to see, he gets wind of the situation. It's lovely. He hadn't come in person. He sends a messenger to Naaman the Syrian and he gives this advice. "Go bathe seven times in the Jordan".

Well, here's this great figure. And he says, "What? The prophet didn't even bother coming himself to see me. He sends a fluky to see me? And then he tells me, what, to go bathe in a river. Wouldn't he himself come in person and maybe put hands on me or utter a prayer or incantation or something? Wouldn't he take me that seriously"? No, he sends a messenger who gives him this kind of strange instruction. So Naaman, this proud man, at first is kind of put off. Listen to what he says. "I thought that for me, he would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord as God, and would wave his hand over the spot and cure the leprosy. He'd come in person".

And then when he is told, "go bathe seven times in the Jordan," Naaman says, "Are not Abana and Pharpar", that's two rivers in his home country. "Aren't the rivers of Damascus, better than all the water of Israel"? He wants me to dunk myself in these foreign streams? Yeah. His pride is stirred up. Ah, but this was a key moment, wasn't it? Because he might, at this point, have stormed off. He might have said, all right, I've had it with this whole process. I've been humble, but now I've had it. That's too much. But he says, okay, okay. I will do what this prophet through his fluky has told me to do. And Naaman bathes seven times. And then we hear this. "His flesh became again like the flesh of a child and he was clean of his leprosy".

The story begins with this man with a debilitating disease. The door to healing is opened through humility. Where you stumble, that's where you dig for treasure. It's in your weakness that you tend to find God. And so following the path of humility and going through a series of humiliations, he finally acquiesces and comes to be healed. His suffering, his embarrassment, his thorn in the flesh was healed precisely through and by the quelling of his pride and his submission to the will of God. Easy? Not less time I checked. We're all prideful. We all resist the path that's opened up to us by humility. But by following that path, we come to be healed.

Just a glance at the end of the story. So Naaman exalts in his cure. And then he asks that he might bring some containers of Israelite soil back to his own country so he could worship the God who cured him on his proper ground. I just love that detail because the healing was not the end in itself. As good as that was for him, what was the real goal here? Was to move to the praise of God. Having been cured, having had the door open through his own suffering and through humility, he finally comes to the right praise of God. And that's the goal, everybody, of all of our healing. That's the goal of the entire spiritual life.

Just a glance now at the gospel because the church puts this story of Naaman in juxtaposition to the famous gospel account of Jesus healing lepers now in his own time. As the Lord enters a village, he's met by 10 lepers and they're standing, as was the law, at a great distance. "Jesus, master, have pity on us". Why are they cured? You see it right there, through their humility. Look, I can't do this myself. I can't cure myself. All I can do is say, "Jesus, master, have pity on me".

We echo these men, by the way, every time we begin the mass and we say, kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. I can't purify myself to come into the presence of God, but in humility I can call out to him and he can cure me. And how beautiful. Of course, he heals all 10. But only one, a Samaritan, an outsider. They're a bit like Naaman the Syrian. Only one returns to thank. What's Thanksgiving, everybody, but still another expression of humility. If your cured of your leprosy, you can say, "Hey, how wonderful, what a great thing".

And then off you go to live the rest of your life. No, no. The further stance of humility is to acknowledge in gratitude the one who brought me healing. So what's your leprosy? We've all got it. Every one of us. I know it. Everyone listening to me right now, there's something in you. I don't care how great you are in the eyes of the world. I don't care how accomplished you are, there's something in you that eats away at you, that bothers you, that unnerves you. There's a thorn in the flesh. What is that? What is that? Name it, name it, know it. And then dig there for the treasure, because that might be the very suffering that leads you on the path of humility, which alone leads to spiritual healing. May God bless you.
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