“There’s A Little Naaman In All of Us” July 7, 2019
“There’s A Little Naaman In All of Us”
2 Kings 5:1-14/ Galatians 6:1-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
So, let’s talk about this Naaman fellow: a general – a great general of the Syrian army. (2 Kings 5:1) tells us Naaman was a great man and highly regarded by his master, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. (Syria) He had a lot going for him: fame, success, and the respect and admiration of his people. There was only one problem – Naaman had leprosy. We can’t say for certain what that means for Naaman’s time. It could have been any number of skin diseases, and not just Hansen’s disease, as Leprosy is called today. But it was probably still pretty miserable. The word used here is meṣora, and Leviticus spends two chapters on it. The important thing for us to understand is that with the disease he was considered unclean, he was unable to go to worship with other folks, he could occasionally be quarantined, which definitely could interfere with his job of being a general. This had to be a serious issue with him not just physically, but also vocationally and I’m sure his social life was the pits.
Now, before we go any further, I’d like to say a thing or two about warfare in the time of Elisha. Unlike today, warfare in biblical times was almost friendly. It was such a normal part of everyday life that folks just accepted it. And it seems like it rarely got personal between those fighting these wars because everyone pretty much believed that the battle was won by whoever had the best god at the time. It reminds you of professional football players who fight it out at the stadium only to get together later on for one of their kid’s birthday party. This brings us to the real hero of the story: the Israeli slave girl that belonged to Naaman. She had been captured in some battle or other and worked in the house. But she had pity on Naaman. Now Naaman, being a man, would never complain or seek out any kind of help for his condition so she knew not to approach him about it. So she mentions to Naaman’s wife that there happened to be a prophet named Elisha in Israel who could cure him of this disease. The wife tells Naaman and he decides it’s worth a shot, so he goes to the king of Syria to get a letter of recommendation, along with a bunch of money and gifts to sweeten the deal, to cross into enemy territory to ask to be healed of this terrible affliction. He and his men travel to Israel and the King of Israel goes into a panic thinking that Syria is only trying to pick a fight, but here’s the kicker – Elisha finds out the Naaman is in town and sends word to the king, (vs 8) Why do you rip your clothes? Let the man come to me. Then he’ll know there’s a prophet in Israel. The rest of the story you’ll recall from our reading today. Naaman – arrogant and all powerful – shows up with his chariots and treasures at Elisha’s house expecting a big show. The sky will open up, a chorus of angels will sing, and the great Naaman will be healed. But instead, Elisha sends a messenger to him with the simple request, (vs 10) “Go and wash 7 times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored and become clean.” That’s it. No fanfare, no hoopla. Just “go take a bath. Have a nice day.”
Naaman, of course, would have nothing to do with this nonsense. And so he storms off claiming the rivers of Syria are just as good as any river in Israel. And this brings us to the 2nd hero in our story. (vs 13) Naaman’s servants came up to him and spoke to him: “Our father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All he said to you was, ‘Wash and become clean.” Once again, the pesky servants. “If Elisha had told you to stand on your head and spit out little green apples, wouldn’t you have done it? Why not do the easy thing?” Once again, the voice of goodness, the voice of mercy. Once again the arrogant bluster of man meets the presence of a loving God who is in dogged pursuit of a humbled heart, a contrite heart.
There’s a little Naaman in all of us. We come to the Lord with high hopes and expectations. We’ve figured out how it’s going to be and it’s going to glorious – until it’s not. And that’s when the troubles of this world start tearing at us. It seems there’s just too much meanness in the world to even bother with. We need something big, something spectacular, before healing can begin. Well, I think I’ve found that big, spectacular thing. I found it, believe it or not, in the 23rd Psalm and it’s all about the Hebrew word “radaph.” A guy named Chad Bird says it this way, “In the Hebrew of Psalm 23, goodness and mercy do no follow us all the days of our lives. That translation is far too bloodless for the verb radaph. It means “chase after” or “pursue.” The goodness and mercy of God don’t follow us like a good little puppy dog. They gallop after us like a celestial stallion. The chase us down labyrinthine paths like the hounds of heaven. The goodness and mercy of our Shepherd chase after (radaph) us all the way to heaven’s gate and into the arms of our Father.”
Now that’ something big, something spectacular. To understand that God isn’t just waiting around patiently for me to get my act together, but is actively dogging at my heels – that changes things. It’s comforting and scary at the same time. With God’s love there is no vacation from compassion. With the love of Christ, there is no rest from doing good. With the power of the Spirit, we can’t look away from the meanness and injustice of the world around us. It’s safe to say that we’ll always have a little bit of Naaman in us. Thanks be to God that we are precious in his sight. Thanks be to God that he will send that small still voice to keep us humble, and thanks be to God that, like Naaman, we can find healing and peace from our Shepherd who never, ever lets us out of his sight.
Amen & Shalom