Grumpy Naaman the Syrian general didn’t want to be treated in the way Elisha had treated him. Elisha hadn’t even bothered to come to him. And then he had just asked him to bathe in the river! Naaman expected something special, something mysterious, and he expected Elisha’s attention. But no, Elisha didn’t seem bothered with him.
Naaman was an important person; he expected to be treated differently to others. He was of course suffering from pride. And the first step towards healing for Naaman was to listen to his servants. They understood where Naaman was too proud to understand. So Naaman consented to humble himself by bathing in the Jordan seven times as Elisha had directed him. After Naaman is humbled, he comes to his senses, and he is not only healed of his leprosy, but he acknowledges that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. He has received healing of his soul too.
In Nazareth, the people who were neighbours of Jesus are reluctant to be taught by him. They were prepared to be taught by a stranger, but fiercely deny that one of their own could stand up and instruct them. Again they are filled with pride. They want to set the circumstances and criteria by which God will instruct or inspire them.
Even more than this, because of their selfishness, they are not prepared to agree that God’s benefits should be shared with non-Jews. When Jesus points out to them their error by referring them to the prophets (not least Elisha healing Naaman the Syrian) their pride leads them to be so enraged, they decide to do away with Jesus there and then, by throwing Him off the nearby cliff.
Pride and selfishness are deadly sins – deadly for ourselves, and sometimes others! We are turned in on ourselves. It is all “me, me, me”! Often enough it is born of fear. Out of fear we can foolishly start focusing down on ourselves; we start clinging on to things within and without. We cannot rely on others, we can only rely on ourselves. We fear that no one else will care for us, so we have to look after number one first. But foolishly we are, spiritually speaking, killing ourselves.
Whereas Christ’s way is that of generosity, of giving; for the more we give away, the more we receive. Love grows when we give it away, not when we restrict it and keep it close. To be humble means accepting who we truly are – a creature of God. And knowing everything we truly need comes from Him alone. So with a humble, generous, giving spirit we are in fact released from fear and have joy. The traditional practices of Lent (fasting, prayer and almsgiving) encourage us to humble our pride, to convert our hearts to know we are creatures beloved of God, and that in Him alone we have everything we need.