2 Kings 5:1-14 – The 7th Sunday after Pentecost – for July 3, 2016
Elisha sent out a messenger who said, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored and become clean.” (2 King 5:10)
Elisha, inheritor of Elijah’s prophetic mantel, God’s miracle-worker and sage, lived in an odd era compared to our modern days.
It was a time of kings and the conquered.
Of wars and warriors.
Of famine and futility.
Of hatred and hubris.
Of borders and battles.
Of slaves taken and servants mistreated.
Of gods and God.
The powerful ruled the powerless; the rich became richer; generals forged decisions with the spilled blood of the young; orphans and widows increased in number; the poor became poorer; the 99% scraped by and the 1% schemed for more wealth.
Not like our time at all.
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In the time of Kings, in the tales of Elisha, there came a warrior named Naaman. He was a general for Aram, from the land to the east.
Diseased Naaman was.
Shamed Naaman was.
He would give away gold and slaves and probably some of his wives (and even his children) if only he could rid his body of the illness.
Leprosy. As powerful as Naaman was, a general who kept the king a king, his corrupted skin won every battle.
Then came a slave’s words. She was a pitiable splinter of a girl from Israel. Naaman didn’t know her name, and never would. But she whispered to her mistress, to Naaman’s wife, that perhaps, possibly, if the great warrior visited a prophet of Israel, his disease would become but a miserable memory.
Was it worth a try?
(How far would you journey to be healed of shame and illness?)
In the account of 2 Kings 5, no one should be surprised by the King of Israel’s reaction when learning that Naaman—with his minions and military and might—sought his council for a cure. If healed, would Naaman become more fearsome? If still diseased and thus disappointed, would he unleash swords and spears against Israel?
Naaman’s request must be a trick, a scam, or worse.
In the whimsical ways of the Bible (long before the Internet), Elisha “immediately” knew Naaman’s needs. Without meeting face-to-face (or messaging on Facebook), Elisha offered a cure for the warrior.
For clean skin? For new life!
Based on Elisha’s prophetic, divinely inspired, and admittedly peculiar directions, Naaman was required to bathe seven times in the Jordan.
So simple! Too simple?
Naaman was—let’s be impolite but accurate—mightily pissed.
I THOUGHT FOR SURE THAT HE’D COME OUT, STAND AND CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD HIS GOD, WAVE HIS HAND OVER THE BAD SPOT, AND CURE THE SKIN DISEASE!!!!!!
Throats were cleared. Several of Naaman’s bravest servants stepped forward. They wondered if the great and mighty warrior would’ve tried anything suggested by the silly prophet if the efforts were difficult. Why not attempt a task that’s . . . easy?
How dare those unnamed nothings speak! Did Naaman’s fist tighten on the hilt of his sword? Did his eyes narrow and brow furrow while gazing at these impetuous servants?
And yet the survivor of cruel battles, perhaps responding to his better angels, strode to the river and flung himself into its muddy waters.
Once. Twice. Thrice. A fourth time. Now a fifth. Then a sixth.
He was naked, dripping wet. Naaman’s sword rested on his tunic in the shoreline mud. He anticipated the final bath, the last plunge. He scanned his flesh; the disease remained. His white skin burned in the harsh Israeli sun. His thoughts veered between the slim chance of cure and continued life with a shameful disease all could see. He waited. No fool, he could count: one more time. The past burdened him. The future seemed a mirage.
Once a nameless girl whispered a message to his wife.
Once, a few heartbeats before, servants whose names he couldn’t remember, had challenged him—challenged him!—to attempt this foolish, simple act.
Naaman immersed himself in the Jordan for the seventh time.
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Early in seminary, I spoke for (or against) some new policy. I can’t remember what. Others also spoke. I was nervous, barely coherent. Moments after sharing my views, a professor—the homiletics guy, the teacher of preachers—said he admired what I said and how I said it. He said, not to me, but another, that I’d be a good preacher.
To this day, though his exact words have blurred into the haze of memory, I wonder if he wanted me to overhear his comments?
I don’t think he changed my life, but I also think he did.
You mean, I really could preach? You mean, an esteemed preacher and professor could hear my mutterings and glimpse a good future . . . even for me?
Maya Angelou famously reflected, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
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How often do those sharing our lives for mere moments transform us? Why didn’t that slave girl remain silent? Wouldn’t it have been smarter for Naaman’s servants to keep their opinions to themselves? In a room full of future preachers, why would a professor praise . . . me?
We live in a time of wars and warriors, famine and futility, hatred and hubris, borders and battles. We reel from 49 killed in Orlando, bullets flying in San Bernardino, Paris’ bloodied streets, and Sandy Hook’s slaughter of the innocents. It’s a time of terror, of strangers insulting strangers on social media, or selfishness hardening our hearts into walnut-sized shells.
What do we say to others?
Will we, God-created and God-blessed, waste our lives cursing others or ourselves?
Naaman stood naked, newly drenched and still diseased, his shame evident to even the casual glance of a stranger.
How could the fierce soldier believe any cure was possible?
And yet he entered the seventh time.
Nameless people had chosen to speak words of hope to him.
(Image of the Jordan from here.)