Text study on 2 Kings 5:1-14
Lectionary text for Feb. 12, 2012
Naaman was a great man. The Bible calls him a “mighty warrior” and says he was “in high favor with” the king of Aram, a neighboring kingdom to Israel.
Naaman also had a problem, a weakness. He had a skin disease. The Bible calls it leprosy, but it could have been anything along the lines of eczema or psoriasis.
As the story unfolds, an Israelite girl who had been captured in war becomes a servant girl in Naaman’s household. She tells Naaman’s wife about a prophet and faith-healer over in Israel.
The wife tells Naaman and Naaman tells the king.
The king values Naaman so highly that he sends Naaman to the king of Israel with a letter of request and lots of money and gifts.
Naaman comes before the king and presents his letter. Here’s what the letter said:
“When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
When he reads the letter, the Israelite king panics. “What kind of trick is this?” he thinks. “He sends his great warrior in here and demands that I cure him of leprosy. What’s he trying to do, start a war? I’m not a healer, I can’t cure anybody!”
The servant girl said that a prophet in Israel could heal Naaman but somewhere along the way it turned into a request for the king to cure. The king of Aram assumed the other king had all the power in his own kingdom. And notice how quickly the king of Israel assumed that the other king was up to no good. It does not seem that much has changed in the world of politics in 3,000 or so years.
If Elisha, the prophet, had not stepped in at this point, an attempt to do a good deed for a friend could have been turned into an excuse for war.
But Elisha did step in. He invited Naaman and his entourage to come to his house for healing.
But the misunderstandings weren’t over yet.
Naaman shows up at Elisha’s house, fully expecting a grand welcome.
I suspect he also had a preconceived notion as to how things were supposed to go when one goes to a faith healer. He was looking for ceremony and pyrotechnics and grand gestures invoking the power of the gods.
Instead, Elisha sends out a servant with a short and somewhat strange message: “Go wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will be restored and you shall be clean.”
That was all. That was it. No incantations. No “magic salve.” No “balm from Gilead.” No mumbo, no jumbo.
Just “Go. Wash. Restored. Clean.”
Now it is Naaman’s turn to get a bit reactive.
How can this be?
The prophet has seriously disappointed him. No royal welcome, no flashy ceremony. And wash in the Jordan? “That’s just a piddly little creek compared to the great rivers of Damascus, my home town! Why can’t I wash there? This is ridiculousness. I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!”
So, like a little boy on a playground who didn’t get his way, Naaman grabs up his stuff and stomps off toward home.
Once again the common folk, the servants, come to the rescue. They approach him, calm him down and talk a little common sense into him.
“Look, if the prophet had asked you to perform some great feat like climbing a high mountain or slaying a great monster, you would have done it. Your problem is all he did was tell you ‘wash and be clean.’ Can you not do this simple thing?”
Naaman calmed down and listened to his servants and went to the Jordan and washed seven times.
And yes, his skin was restored. He was cleansed and he was healed.
And you know what? In the end, Naaman did do a great thing, or at least a thing that was difficult for him.
Naaman humbled himself in obedience to God and God’s word.
Naaman put aside his pride, his expectations, his preconceived notions and his resistance to simplicity and made a decision to trust.
Naaman didn’t trust God, because he didn’t know or believe in the God of Israel.
Naaman didn’t trust Elisha, because Elisha didn’t act like the religious leaders he was used to.
But Naaman did trust his own servants and with that tiny sliver of trust, of faith, he was healed.
Lesson to be noted
All of us need to be healed.
All of us have places of brokenness and weakness.
No matter how great or powerful or rich or successful we may be, all of us have blemishes, things that weaken us, parts of ourselves we don’t want others to see.
All of us need to be healed in some way at some time in our lives.
And all of us, like Naaman, need to learn to trust.
We need the opportunity to find a place that is safe enough that we can let go of our pride and our pain long enough to let the gentle healing power of God’s love wash over us.
And we need to remember that we are all called to a life of servanthood.
Remember: Naaman didn’t trust God; Naaman didn’t trust the official religious person Elisha, but he did trust those who served him.
We are servants of God and servants to each other.
Many times we will be the only voice of hope and love another person in our life will be able to hear.
We are called to take responsibility for speaking gently and in love to those around us, constantly reminding them of the simple power of God’s love.
We are called today, as individuals and as a community of faith, to allow ourselves to be healed by God’s love.
It is not an easy thing to do. Many things can stand in our way.
Let us be like Naaman and let go of those things.
Gathering whatever sliver of faith we can muster, let us give ourselves into the simple love of God, trusting that it will change our lives forever.
Delmer Chilton is an assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, with responsibility for eastern and central Tennessee, northern Alabama and northern Georgia. Ordained in 1977, he has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.