Monday, March 12, 2007

Monday in the 3rd Week of Lent
Increasing our Bandwidth

Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-15ab; Psalm 42:2, 3; 43:3, 4; Luke 4:24-30

No prophet is ever accepted in his own country…

If there is one thing that our readings highlight today it’s the limits of our receptivity to the promptings of God. Doesn’t the reaction of the people at Nazara to the preaching of Jesus reflect our own tendencies? Not every message from God is equally likely to receive a hearing among us. We have very specific requirements. To find a welcome among us, God’s word must first be new enough to be interesting. Like the Nazareans, we don’t want to listen to the same old thing, said by the same old person, packaged in the same old way. Never mind if it’s true. It’s too familiar. We want something fresh and exciting, something that can rouse us from the habitual boredom that marks our daily existence. Invite a speaker from far away, the further and the more exotic the better. Thrill us with novelty!

But – and it’s a very big but – we don’t want the message to be too different. More important, we don’t want it to challenge us. Even as we continually hanker after something new, we want it only to confirm what we already know and do. We don’t want it to rock the boat of our fragile existence. We wish to be entertained but not enlightened. Enlightenment is too much work. It’s too tiring. Our lives are stressful enough. Who has the energy, let alone the inclination, to welcome the challenge to change? What we want is familiarity in novelty. Thrill us, entertain us, but leave us alone!

Aren’t these, all too often, the limits of our receptivity to God? It’s a very limited bandwidth. If we were radios, I doubt many people would buy us. And who can blame them?

And yet, if we pay attention to how God operates, both in the scriptures and in our lives, we find that often God chooses precisely to address us beyond the bandwidths of our receptivity. We look for comfort in novelty. But God often chooses to challenge us through familiarity. God often chooses to make us see and relate to the same old people and the same old things in our lives in refreshingly new and life-giving ways. Isn’t this what conversion and repentance means? Isn’t this also what Lent is about?

How then can we increase the narrow bandwidths of our receptivity? What can we learn from our readings today? Both Naaman and the Nazareans are just as scandalized by the familiar and the ordinary. Instead of doing something spectacular, Elishah merely asks Naaman to bathe in a river. And the Nazareans reject Jesus because they think they know everything about him. Who is he to question their faith? Yet, something moves Naaman to accede to the prophet’s request, even as the Nazareans seek to kill Jesus. What is it that sets them apart? More than their nationality, there is one crucial difference between them. The Nazareans feel secure in their self-sufficiency. They don’t really need a prophet. They don’t need this familiar son of a carpenter. But Naaman has traveled a long way precisely because he knows the depth and urgency of his need. He knows of no one else who can cure him of his disease. He follows the prophet’s instructions because he wants to be healed.

Isn’t this also the grace that we seek in our long Lenten trek of forty days? Through our discipline and self-denial we wish to allow God to show us the depth of our need, to convince us of the truth contained in the opening prayer today – we cannot be saved without you. And in this way, we hope to broaden the bandwidth of our receptivity.

What is the depth of your need? What is your bandwidth of receptivity?

1 comment:

  1. Wow! "Thrill us, entertain us, but leave us alone!" cuts to the bone. My bone.

    God indeed chooses to address us beyond the bandwidths of our ordinary, prosaic receptivity. That is why many call him the God of surprises and rightly so because we cannot confine God in the straight-jacket of our norms and expectations.

    If then for those of us who wish to encounter this God of surprises even more this Lent, what are the things that prevent us from doing so? Fr Chris was right when he said our self-sufficiency. Humanity has progressed so much that we can easily deceive ourselves into thinking that there is no need for God anymore. I honestly don't think that I can do without God but because I am so comfortable in life, I shut him out of my consciousness unwittingly. Secondly, Naaman knew the depth and urgency of his need and therefore he traveled far to seek a cure. Unlike Naaman, many of us are indifferent to our deepest needs, myself included. I pray the Holy Spirit to reveal to me the depth of my need.

    OK, now that we know something of the things that keep us from a more intimate union with God, what can we do? I sincerely believe that we have to prepare our minds and hearts through devoting time to God. Until the ground of our minds and hearts are fertile enough for the word of God to take root, nothing will happen. This is because our lives - my life - is stuffed with so many other things, the gentle promptings and manifestations of God go un-noticed, right under our very noses.

    May we all experience the revelation of God this Lent through our sincere, contrite desire to seek him.