Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The readings this week point very clearly to a link between faithfulness to God’s law and evangelization — the proclamation of Good News to others.
For example, we hear how Naaman the Syrian — an outsider to Israel — came to the prophet Elisha to be cured of leprosy. Elisha asked Naaman for a very simple act: that he wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman almost stormed away in protest. “What could possibly be special about this river and this land? Aren’t the rivers in my home country cleaner and better?”
On a human level, his objection was perfectly reasonable. There seemed no good reason why this land, and this river, should be any better than any other. But when he was cured, he realized that there’s something special about this place! God dwells here, in this land, in a way that He doesn’t dwell anywhere else. That brought Naaman to worship the one true God.
Naaman’s objection sounds a lot like a common objection we hear today: “Why should I pray in a church? Can’t I pray anywhere else just as well? What’s so special about this building?” Our answer can echo the answer Elisha gave to Naaman: There’s something different about this place. Try it out, and see for yourself. But to make that invitation credible, we have to be faithful to it first!
This week we also hear Azariah’s prayer in the furnace. (The Israelites named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are better known by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.) After his prayer, God sent an angel to protect the three from the flames of the furnace. As a result, the Babylonian king — an outsider — declared: “There is no other God who can rescue like this!” The unwavering fidelity of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah became an opportunity to give witness to the truth about God to an outsider.
Along similar lines, we hear Moses tell the Israelites: If you are faithful to God’s law, you will give evidence to other nations of who and how good God is. This is the same thing we hear about the work of college missionaries. People see the intentional and joyful way they live and ask: “How do I get some of that?” The answer is: Follow Jesus, and you can share that joy.
All of this converges on a question for us: Do we take fidelity to God’s law, as articulated in the teachings of the Church, as an opportunity for evangelization? Or do we compromise Church teaching because we’re afraid of how people will react?
If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we suffer from two prominent kinds of failure. Sometimes we actively promote the social teachings of the Church, while disowning the doctrinal teachings of the Church. Other times we actively promote the doctrinal teachings of the Church, while disowning the social teachings of the Church. Both are failures of fidelity. Both also miss the opportunity for evangelization. And the result of a lack of evangelization is always the same: a lack of growth.
Here’s a good mantra: When we have both, it leads to growth.
It wasn’t easy for the Israelites to be faithful to all of God’s law. But when they were, it gave powerful witness to the nations. The same is true for us. It isn’t easy to be faithful to all of the Church’s teachings. But when we are, it gives a powerful witness — and a powerful invitation — to the world.