Marauding Arameans push into Israel. As they kick dust and wail in warlike glee, they are, to anyone along their path, a terrifying enemy. The Vulgate suggests: a troop, crowd, throng, band, body (turma). Another witness in the Latin tradition: robbers, freebooters, brigands (latrunculi). A thundering stampede, they take booty for enrichment and thrill. They seize a child, whose age we guess because she is only a little girl (parvulam puellam). Her capture is horrific.
Having survived abduction, this little child speaks the saving word. Naaman, commander of the army of Aram, although a great and mighty man, suffers from skin lesions. The girl, now a slave to Naaman’s wife, reports to her mistress that a healing prophet lives in Israel. In stately procession, then, Naaman goes forth carrying letters of recommendation and gifts of silver, gold, and fine garments. The king of Israel, however, suspects “he is trying to pick a quarrel with me” (2 Kgs. 5:7). Elisha intervenes, announcing that this is an opportunity to show that “there is a prophet in Israel” (5:8). Elisha, evincing authority and power, communicates through a messenger, commanding Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times. Naaman is offended on three counts: the prophet does not come out to greet him, fails to wave his hand over the wound and heal him instantly, and tells him to wash in waters no different from the rivers of Damascus. Sometimes the question must be asked: “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6).
Go down to the river. Go down to the river and pray. Dip your body and the wounds of your flesh into the water seven times, which is to say, wash fully and completely. Then, come up from the water with the new flesh of a young boy. Is this not a baptism and a sign of the new age? With the flesh of a child, will Naaman, upon his return, think of the little girl who told of a prophet in Israel? Baptism is a new infancy, a new life, a small and precious human.
A different prophet and a different time, to be sure; and yet Isaiah 66 is the perfect supplement to the story of Naaman. Looking for the restoration of Israel, Isaiah imagines the nation as a mother. Again, noticing the Vulgate: “that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom” (Isa. 66:11). Is this not a sign of the Supper of the Lamb? Is not the Old Testament also New? Only an infant feeds this way, only the newly baptized.
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Matt. 11:25). “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). Discipleship is a divine regression, a return to the water of birth, nourishment from a mother’s love, and a few small steps taken in trust. “You don’t need anything,” Jesus seems to say. You have life and nourishment evermore. Go where I am about to go; go with the trust of a child. In the world there are wolves, but take no defensive action. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. Move along the way that I am. Give peace to the house and the city. Care for the sick. Announce the nearness of God’s reign. Watch the demons fall.
But remain simple. I am alive, I am fed, I am sent, and my name is written in heaven. I am a mere child.