Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Naaman Washes

2 Kings 5:1-15; 21st Sunday after Pentecost C, October 13, 2013

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
The story of Naaman is an odd one. He is a foreign commander, known for raiding the Israelites, yet he goes into Israel to be healed of his terrible skin disease. Every step of the way, Naaman thinks he knows what is going to happen. Each time, he is surprised by what actually happens. God is revealed in the mundane waters of the Jordan and in the lowly servants. Listen again to Naaman’s story.

Naaman was an important person in the country of Aram, which in modern day is Syria. He is the commander of the royal army, a mighty warrior high ranking and in his lord’s high favor. His uniform is covered in medals and ribbons because he wins many battles and takes many prisoners. He is a great man, honorable and proud.
Yet, despite all of his achievements and his high regard, he suffers from leprosy, a disfiguring skin disease. His face is pocked and pitted with sores. His skin all over his body is ugly, sore, and uncomfortable. The social stigma of leprosy is just as bad as his lesions.

One of the prisoners of war that Naaman captured from Israel is a young Jewish girl. She is smart and quick-witted and wins favor in Aram. The king of Aram sets her as servant for Naaman’s wife. This servant girl learns to like Naaman and his wife, even though they worship different gods. She is kind to her masters and privately worships the God of Israel.
Seeing how much Naaman’s leprosy holds him back from his life in Aram, she tells her mistress about a wonderful prophet in her home country. This man named Elisha miraculously heals many whom he encounters. She describes how with a simple prayer he cleaned a spring of water. Elisha also helped an old woman to conceive a son. Then, a few years later when that son died, Elisha raised him from the dead. Through his many miracles, Elisha fed the hungry and helped the widows and orphans.
The slave girl says that Elisha can be found in Samaria, the capital city of Israel. Naaman is persuaded. He approaches his king and asks to see this amazing prophet. Because the king thinks so highly of the commander of his army, he writes a letter to the King of Israel, asking for permission for Naaman to see this prophet, Elisha. Considering that Naaman and his army plundered part of Israel, this is an off-putting request.
Naaman takes the letter with him as he travels to Israel. He brings with him much gold, silver, and expensive clothing as gifts; and he had a number of servants and chariots riding with him. Now he approaches the king of Israel and presents the letter from his own king.

After reading the letter, the king of Israel is understandably upset. Why should he grant this after all that has transpired? Some of his people are forced to be slaves in another land, and the raids leave others to suffer in hunger. He is angry at being thrust into this situation, but he also feels socially obligated to accept Naaman’s wishes. The last thing that the king wants is to stir Aram to attack Israel again.
After hearing of this, Elisha sends word to the king to allow Naaman to see him – for evangelism’s sake. Elisha sees this as an opportunity to show this bold, proud foreign man who really is God. The king allows it.

So, Naaman goes to Elisha’s house with his whole company in tow, horses and chariots and all. This must have been quite the sight going through the center of the city of his enemy. When they arrive, Elisha is inside. He does not invite them in or even come out to greet Naaman and his traveling party. Instead, he sends a servant of his household to share the message: Go to the Jordan River, wash in it seven times, and then you will be fully healed.
After all of his effort, Naaman feels shunned by Elisha. This is not what Naaman wants to hear. After all that he had heard about Elisha, he expected a big show with flashing lights and grand effects. When he was riding over to Elisha’s house, Naaman dreamed that Elisha would come right out to him, shout loudly to the Lord to heal him, and then use his “magic hands” to wave over his body and cure him on the spot. What he got was quite a let down after the spectacle that he had imagined.
Also, Naaman wonders, why the Jordan River? Why such a small, muddy, pathetic river when the rivers running through his country are large, clean, and impressive? Naaman leaves Elisha’s house in a rage. He is disappointed, resentful, and embarrassed. He is so offended by what transpired that he wants to go back to his country.

Naaman’s company follows him away from Elisha’s house. A few brave servants approach and try to reason with him. They say, “Consider this: if this prophet had told you to do something difficult to cure your disease, wouldn’t you have done it? Isn’t it special that Elisha’s messenger simply commanded you to wash and be clean? Sure, this is not what you expected. Yet why not do what he asks? What do you have to lose?”
Persuaded, Naaman decides that it is at least worth a try. He brings his company to the Jordan River. As he was told, he steps into the river. Standing waist deep in the water, he bends his knees and leans back until his entire body is submerged in the water. Then he rises again. Seven times, he immerses himself in the water.
This time in the water did exactly as Elisha said it would. When Naaman rises the seventh time out of the waters of the Jordan River, he is completely healed of his terrible skin disease. His skin is good as new, cleared of sores and soft as a baby’s bottom.
Amazed, astounded, and overflowing with gratitude, Naaman and his company return to Elisha’s house. Newly humbled, Naaman speaks to Elisha, “Now I know that your God in Israel is the only god in all the world.”
In this lesson, we see God working through ordinary people and ordinary experiences. Like Naaman, we often expect God to be revealed to us in flashes of thunder and grand experiences. More often than not, God is actually revealed in the simplest people around us. God worked through two servants, first when Naaman’s wife’s servant suggested that they go to Israel and second when Naaman’s own servant encouraged him to wash in the river. These people did not need to act at all, yet they showed Naaman how to trust God.  These lowly servants showed Naaman that God could be found in a simple, mundane washing in a dirty river.
Naaman isn’t an example of strong faith. When he washed in the Jordan, he didn’t believe that God could heal him. He only went to the river because his servant encouraged him to. Afterward, Naaman saw God in the washing, and he worshipped God. From that day forward, Naaman only worshipped the God of Israel, the one true God whom we worship today.

After all we have seen and heard in this story, I wonder: When have you seen God in unexpected people and places?

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