2 Kings 5:1-14 – 6th Sunday after Epiphany – for February 12, 2012
“So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan…” (2 Kings 5:14)
In Luke’s Gospel (4:27) Jesus mentioned Naaman once.
Jesus used the old warrior from Syria as an example of how God and God’s prophets go about their business. Jesus so thrilled his listeners (a.k.a., his friends and neighbors), they attempted to toss him off a nearby cliff. Irked the sermon’s message, they wanted to see how far the messenger could spiral down before smacking the ground.
However Jesus “passed through the midst of them, and went on his way.” In other words, Jesus escaped a lynch mob.
Preachers and writers beware when Naaman is mentioned…
…So let’s talk about Naaman! (You prepare your easy escape from angry crowds while I work on mine.)
Though the name Naaman surfaces several times in the Bible, I’m interested in the fellow that starred in the fifth chapter of Second Kings. Outside of Kings and Luke, this particular Naaman is no more than a footnote. As with many Biblical characters, he appears and then vanishes. But while “on stage,” he makes an impact (and I don’t mean like a body falling off a cliff.) Naaman, a “commander of the army of the King of Aram” (Syria for modern Googlers), is by all accounts a warrior, feared and fearsome.
In other words, one tough dude.
With one issue: skin tissue. He’s got leprosy; can’t hide his bad hide. In the wondrous ways of the Bible, where happenstance and Holy desires hold hands, Naaman learns of a cure: Go see Elisha, a prophet of the God of Israel. I’ll trust that you, dear reader, have already read the full account in II Kings. However, let’s make it interesting . . .
Naaman heads for Israel by:
- Riding on a fast chariot
- Astride a sturdy camel
- Pedaling a Solis Nitro road bike
- A sword sharpened to kill
- A spear easily hurled a hundred yards
- An iPhone with a low battery
- A scowl and billowing robes
- Leather sandals fashioned by the finest craftsman
- Eddie Bauer Jeans with holes in the knees
What’d you choose on your quiz? I picked #3 every time because, regardless of Naaman’s lack or abundance of Biblical detail, when I read about him . . . I see me. Yes, I have a bicycle. Darn that iPhone, I should charge it. And my lovely wife cringes when I wear those tattered denims in public.
Naaman, like me, and like you, needs a cure. Whether the disease of skin, soul or mind, we all journey to seek healing. We aren’t who we want to be; we aren’t, God knows, who we can be.
Heal me. Help me. Make me whole. For Naaman, through Elisha’s words, God makes the cure darn easy. This is where the warrior gets peeved. He doubts easy. He questions easy. He’s instructed to bathe seven times in the Jordan and, perhaps equally petulant and incredulous, scoffs at the suggestion.
A servant asks dis-eased Naaman, “…if the prophet commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?”
Why is hard sometimes more compelling than easy?
The hardest professional decision I ever made came when my bishop asked me to leave my position as a hospice chaplain to become the senior pastor of a church in turmoil. I made the hard decision harder. I delayed answering. I spent time with Hem and Haw. I prayed. I talked with friends. Once, anguished over saying “yes” or “no,” I did what is always a foolish, childish thing: I randomly opened my Bible and plunged my finger onto a passage. Any passage! And what would this magic verse reveal as God’s will for me? Finally, unsure (and with my finger slightly bruised), I agreed to serve the church. What was right? What was wrong? This I know, looking back . . . I made a hard decision harder. How much did I trust God, and distrust myself?
But decisions can be easy. Months before the Bishop’s request, I’d offended a fellow chaplain. In my eagerness to please—and, truth be told, also selfishly trying to appear like the guy-who-could-do-it-all—I handled a phone message for another chaplain. The call came from one of her (the other chaplain’s) patients. Instead of merely taking a message, I “ministered” to the patient, made promises of what I (and the hospice) would do. I overstepped my boundaries. I upset another person’s pastoral care. While my skin might’ve been unblemished, like Naaman, I was dis-eased.
How could I find healing, wholeness? Simple. I needed to face my colleague and say three words: I. Am. Sorry. No hemming or hawing or finger-plunging necessary. Simple, and yet so very, very, very, very, very, very, very hard.
Seven times in the Jordan, Elisha told Naaman. Easy-schmeasy. It is. It isn’t. Sometimes the simplest thing confronts our worst fears. Do we have the courage to wade into water? What if it works? What if it doesn’t work? Do we have the courage to speak three words?
Naaman departs the Bible faster than riding a chariot (or bike) through a town with one stoplight. But, for me, he lingers, a reminder that the path to wholeness is easy. Often, the only stumbling block is me.