Patriotism is indeed a virtue,1 but patriotism is not more elevated than the worship of God or the honor due to our parents. In today’s readings we can see the potential a conflicting sense of reverence for God, parents, and country has for blinding and hardening the heart to truth. Naaman almost missed out on his healing because he was sure the rivers of his own country would serve better for healing than the rivers of a foreign nation. The people of Nazareth became furious with Jesus when He told them they would not accept Him simply because He Himself comes from Nazareth. They were angry with God because He disturbed their national pride.
Human culture is the right environment for a human person to grow and develop well. The Word of God, when introduced into any human culture, has a more radical claim to authority. No other loyalties are allowed to persist if they are in conflict with this Word. Israel has as long history of passing this Word down from generation to generation, from father to son, “We heard with our own ears, O God, our fathers have told us the story – of the things you did in their days, you yourself in days long ago.”2 When this Word comes in the flesh, the same flesh as the people of Nazareth, He comes across as something foreign. It’s as though Jesus is telling them they must be prepared to receive the Word as though they’ve never heard or understood it before. They find this insulting and try to kill Him. May we never, by any kind of loyalty to parents, culture, or tradition, refuse to receive the Word in its bewildering foreignness.
“Therefore Naaman was sent to the Jordan as to the remedy capable to heal a human being. Indeed, sin is the leprosy of the soul, which is not perceived by the senses, but intelligence has the proof of it, and human nature must be delivered from this disease by Christ’s power which is hidden in baptism. It was necessary that Naaman, in order to be purified from two diseases, that of the soul and that of the body, might represent in his own person the purification of all the nations through the bath of regeneration, whose beginning was in the river Jordan, the mother and originator of baptism.”3
“Since all diseases are a sort of bondage, the prophet necessarily fixed the healing at the seventh bath, in parallel with the fact that the Law, too, orders and promises freedom for the slave at the seventh year.”4
“At the same time, understand that he was not forced to suffer the passion of his body. It was voluntary. He was not taken by the Jews but given by himself. Indeed, he is taken when he wants to be. He glides away when he wants to.28 He is hung when he wants to be. He is not held when he does not wish it. Here he goes up to the summit of the hill to be thrown down. But, behold, the minds of the furious men were suddenly changed or confused. He descended through their midst, for the hour of his passion had not yet come.29 Indeed, he still preferred to heal the Jews, rather than destroy them, so that through the unsuccessful outcome of their frenzy, they would cease to want what they could not attain.”5
- See ST II-II, Q. 101. St. Thomas Aquinas treats the virtue of piety within the Treatise on Prudence and Justice. Piety, which follows the cult due to God in the virtue of religion, is a certain cult due to our parents and country. The service and reverence we owe God as the creator of our being is expressed in the virtue of religion. In an analogous way, with the virtue of piety we owe certain service and reverence to our parents and country as the source and origin of our life. Being is more radical than life, and the vital contribution from our parents more radical than from our country. From this we can derive a clear hierarchy of the reverence and service that we owe.
- Ps 44:2
- Ephrem the Syrian, On the Second Book of Kings 5.10-11.
- Ephrem the Syrian, On the Second Book of Kings 5.15.
- Ambrose, EXPOSITION OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 4.55–56. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 83). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.