Jesus mentioned Naaman once in Luke’s Gospel (4:27).
He used the veteran warrior from Syria to illustrate how God’s prophets go about their business. That inspirational message caused Jesus’ listeners (which is to say his friends and neighbors), to try to drop kick him off a nearby cliff. Less than happy with Jesus’ example, 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, he escaped a lynch mob. Preachers and writers: beware when Naaman is mentioned!
But why not talk about him? (You prepare your escape from angry crowds while I plan 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 barely registers. 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,” or Syria for modern Googlers, is by all accounts a warrior, feared and fearsome.
In other words, one tough dude.
But tough Naaman has one negative issue: skin tissue. He’s got leprosy. He can’t hide his bad hide. In the wondrous ways of the Bible, where happenstance and Holy hopes clasp 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 sure with a whiz-bang quiz:
Naaman heads for Israel by:
- Riding on a fast chariot
- Astride a sturdy camel
- Driving his aging Outback
- A sword sharpened to kill
- A spear easily hurled a hundred yards
- A smartphone with a low battery
- A scowl and billowing robes
- Leather sandals fashioned by the finest craftsman
- Eddie Bauer no-wrinkle shorts
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. Yup, I have a Subaru. Darn that iPhone, I should charge it. And my lovely wife wishes I wouldn’t wear those shorts to formal occasions.
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. When instructed to bathe seven times in the Jordan, perhaps equally petulant and incredulous, he berates 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 crisis. I delayed answering. I spent time with my pals Hemming and Hawing. I prayed. I talked with friends. Once, anguished over saying “yes” or “no,” I did what is always childish . . . randomly opening my Bible and then plunging 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? Or vice-versa?
But decisions can also be easy. Months before the Bishop’s request, I’d offended a fellow hospice chaplain. In my eagerness to please—and, truth be told, also selfishly trying to be the guy-who-could-do-it-all—I handled a phone message for another chaplain. The call came from that chaplain’s patient. 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 and 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, right?
It was. It wasn’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 Outback) 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.
Image: Naaman healed of leprosy; bathing in the River Jordan at right on Elisha’s recommendation; some of his troops looking on from the bank at left; from the ‘Icones Biblicae’, published by Merian in Frankfurt before 1630. c.1625-30 Etching