ambrose_of_milanThere were many lepers in the time of the prophet Elisha, but none of them was healed except Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25).

Clearly this saying of our Lord and Saviour teaches and exhorts us to be zealous in worshiping God; it shows that no one is healed and set free from a disfiguring illness without having earnestly striven for health by acts of piety.

Divine blessings are not accorded to the som­nolent, but to the persistent. The Lord uses an apt comparison to deflate his envious townsmen and to show that his actions are in harmony with the ancient scriptures.

We read in the Book of Kings that a Gentile called Naaman was cleansed of leprous spots by the word of a prophet, although leprosy of body and soul was carrying off many Israelites;

in fact the history relates that the four men were lepers who, driven by hunger, were the first to enter the camp of the King of Syria.

Why then did the prophet not cure his brothers, his compatriots and comrades, when he healed foreigners, men who did not observe the law or share his religion, if not because healing depends upon the will, not upon one’s nationality, and because the divine gift is gained by prayer, not granted as a birthright.

Learn to ask for what you wish to obtain; heavenly blessings are not bestowed upon the proud.

[…] Rightly, therefore, was Naaman said to be greatly esteemed by his lord, and in high favour, for he foreshadowed the future salvation of the Gentiles.

A devout slave-girl captured by the enemy when her country was defeated advised ­him to seek healing from a prophet; and he was healed not by order of an earthly King, but by the generous mercy of God.

What is the reason for the mysterious number of times he was required to immerse himself? Why was the river Jordan chosen? As Naaman said: Are not Abanna and Pharphar, the rivers of Damascus, better than the Jordan?

Anger made him prefer those ­rivers, but reflection led him to choose the Jordan: wrath remains ignorant of the mystery, but faith understands it.

Understand from this the saving grace of baptism: he entered the water a leper and came forth a believer. Recognise the symbol of the spiritual sacraments:

Naaman sought healing for his body and won it for his soul. His flesh was bathed and his wrong dispositions were cleansed.

In my view he was cleansed as much of the soul’s leprosy as the body’s, for after his baptism, ­when the impurities of his former false religion had been washed away, he declared that he would no longer offer sacrifices to alien gods, but promised them to the Lord.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): On St Luke’s Gospel, 4, 49-50, 1, 33 (SC 45:170-171); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Monday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1.