Christian believers stake their lives on prayer. They make the counter-cultural assertion that the nuts and bolts of this life are not the only part of the story of existence. By praying, they live this claim.
Of course, prayer isn’t easy. It humbles us as we have to constantly re-learn what it is, and what its lessons are truly all about. In prayer, we are routinely reminded that we are addressing a God who deeply loves us and who greatly wants to be in a relationship with us. We’re also reminded that we have to be involved. Prayer is all about participation.
In our Scripture readings this Sunday at Mass, we are told about Naaman the Syrian General. He suffered with leprosy and was left for dead in his native land. In hearing of the healing power of Israel’s God, he left everything he knew in order to seek God’s help.
The king of Israel, however, thought that Naaman was setting a trap for him. He thought the gentile general was seeking a miracle that would not be given and that could then justify an attack against the Israelites. The king questioned the healing authority of God, and so he told Naaman that Israel had no power to heal. Oftentimes, in a life of prayer, we can all share the king’s fear and hesitation.
Can we truly assert the power of prayer? What if a petition isn’t answered? What will people think of God or of me?
When the Prophet Elisha heard of the king’s misgiving, however, he was besides himself and boldly asserted the power of God and the possibility of healing by his grace. The prophet did not delay and was not worried about anything.
In our lives of prayer, we desire this level of certainty and confidence. At times, we receive such gifts and can empower and confirm others in faith. At other times, we don’t have such gifts ourselves, but God sends others to us who have them and they build us up and inspire us in our own faith.
The prophet called on Naaman to wash in the Jordan River. He had to put some skin in the game. At first, he was obstinate and refused, thinking that he had been disrespected or mocked. After some counsel, however, the general reconsidered and washed in the Jordan. As we hear in the readings this Sunday, he was completely cleansed of his leprosy. We’re told his skin was as smooth as a baby’s. God had totally washed him of his leprosy.
The lesson in the exchange is pretty obvious. Prayer isn’t a passive activity. There are no bench warmers in the game of prayer. We have to be all in. We have to put some skin in the game, if we’re going to allow God to bless and heal us.
This flies in the face of the popular perception of prayer. Some people comment, “The only thing I can do is pray,” as if prayer is some last resort, some fool’s errand that doesn’t really do anything, or some unreliable source of help. In reality, prayer is the most powerful thing we can do. Prayer is when we put the affairs of this life in their proper place.
As one spiritual master commented, “In prayer, all things are made small.” In prayer, we remind ourselves of our vulnerability, helplessness, and our total reliance on God’s providential care and his willingness and graciousness to help us. Prayer prepares us for answers, whatever they might be.
Naaman had to bathe in the historically triumphant waters of the Jordan, and he did it. At times, God will ask us to do some interesting, uncomfortable, and unexpected things in order for prayer to work and for our hearts to be ready to receive whatever he chooses to give us. As our spiritual tradition asserts, and Mother Angelica used to quip, “If we’re not willing to do the ridiculous, God will not be able to do the miraculous.”
In the Gospel Reading today, ten lepers had to humble themselves and cry out for help. Rather than following the Mosaic prescriptions and yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!,” they called out, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And the Lord healed them. It was their meekness and tenacity to bellow out for healing that provided the Lord with the opportunity to restore them to health.
This weekend, Naaman the Syrian and the infamous Ten Lepers give us an example. They show us lived prayer, and they invite us to imitate them. In our own lives, are we willing to put some skin in the game? Are we ready to truly pray?
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