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Big or Better?

Cleansing of Naaman

2 Kings 5:9-14

Naaman left with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent someone outside to say to him, “Go wash seven times in the Jordan River. Then you’ll be completely cured.”

11 But Naaman stormed off, grumbling, “Why couldn’t he come out and talk to me? I thought for sure he would stand in front of me and pray to the Lord his God, then wave his hand over my skin and cure me. 12 What about the Abana River or the Pharpar River? Those rivers in Damascus are just as good as any river in Israel. I could have washed in them and been cured.”

13 His servants went over to him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it. So why don’t you do what he said? Go wash and be cured.”

14 Naaman walked down to the Jordan; he waded out into the water and stooped down in it seven times, just as Elisha had told him. Right away, he was cured, and his skin became as smooth as a child’s.

‘Big’ or Better

This is the head honcho in the Syrian army. He’s been leading the Syrian’s into battle against the Israelites for a while now. And he’s been having quite a lot of success! He’s used to being noticed and pandered to, served and supplicated to. There’s just one problem: our friend Naaman has leprosy.

Although it’s almost completely eradicated these days, leprosy is an infectious disease that causes nerve damage to the nerves, respiratory tract, skin and eyes. It often starts with the extremities and works it’s way backwards towards the body. The nerve damage reduces blood supply to the affected areas, turning the skin white. It also results in loss of sensation, so you stop noticing when you cut yourself, bump yourself, get too close to the fire or otherwise damage the skin. Which means it’s really easy to get infections, and for those infections to get so bad that the individual ends up losing their limbs – and sight – slowly, over time. Because of this, back in ancient times there was a lot of stigma attached to having leprosy. In fact, it was enough to get you banished in many communities.

Possibility Introduced

Usually leprosy takes a fairly predictable course, and back in the day there was no treatment or cure. Being the head of the Syrian army gave Naaman many things including wealth and power, servants and slaves. Unfortunately, however, it couldn’t make him better. Until one day one of the Israelites slave girls he had captured told her mistress about a prophet back in Israel. The prophet’s name was Elisha, and this unnamed girl had heard about his miracles. She told her mistress that if Naaman would go and see the prophet, he would make him well.

All of a sudden the certainty of increasing disability and ostracization are replaced with a new possibility – one that Naaman has never thought of up to this point.

Faltering Steps

Naaman seems to have a hard time believing this girl, however. Instead of going directly to Elisha, he first goes to the king of Syria. The king gives him a letter of request to take with him to Israel. Along with the letter, Naaman bundles up a huge amount of wealth – silver, gold and clothing – to take with him to the king of Israel. The king of Israel responds as if he’s been threatened. He assumes it’s a trap, because he has forgotten what God is capable of doing. He assumes that it’s impossible, and will mean the Syrian’s will have one more reason to kill the Israelites.

Israel’s king clearly doesn’t believe in Elisha or in God’s power. All he sees is an insurmountable burden.

Thankfully someone in the court seems to have their head screwed on correctly. A servant (presumably) tells Elisha about the situation. Elisha in turn sends a message back telling the king not to be afraid and to send Naaman to see him.

Naaman’s Choice

Naaman then heads to see Elisha. But Elisha doesn’t pander to his assumptions. Elisha refuses to come out and see Naaman directly. Instead, he simply sends a message to him through yet another servant. Naaman in turn is incredibly put out! He’s even more upset when he hears what the message says: go wash seven times in the river and you’ll be healed.

It seems too simple. Elisha hasn’t asked for wealth. Naaman hasn’t had to beg. No promises have been exacted for this healing.

This is not how things are supposed to be done. There’s supposed to be prayers and hand-waving and payment and maybe some smoke and incense. There’s supposed to be a show so that you know you’re being healed by a ‘Class A’ healer. As far as Naaman is concerned, you can’t do things this way!

But yet again a servant speaks up. Naaman’s servant calms him down and says ‘why not try? Why not be healed? Why waste your chance just because the optics of the situation weren’t quite the way you had in mind?’

And Naaman has to decide. Is he going to be ‘big’ and ‘important’ and a ‘somebody’? Will he demand the respect he’s used to? Stand on his power and wealth and prestige and honour? Or will he do something far harder and humble himself long enough to do what Elisha had instructed?

The Faithfulness of Slaves and Servants

In the end he decides to take the risk. He decides to lay down all of the ‘importance’ he has carried around long enough to take a stab at being healed. His healing comes not because of his wealth or connections, but because he listens to the faithfulness of four servants: a slave-girl, an unmentioned servant in the foreign king’s court, Elisha’s servant and his own.

Naaman went to Israel expecting a god who would work through fireworks and shiny power structures and bartering and lip service. Instead he discovers a God who specializes in the less than and the unnamed. And despite himself Naaman decides to believe what he’s been told, laying down his ‘big’ to discover ‘better’ – healing and a leprosy-free life.


Reflection Questions:

  1. In what ways do you rely on your wealth to get to what you want or need?
  2. In what ways do you lean into community to meet your needs?
  3. Are you missing out on any provision or healing because of what you’re relying on?
  4. In what ways have you been called to be a servant?
  5. To which people of power have you been given an opportunity to speak?
  6. How could you use questions, stories or other techniques to encourage those you are called to serve to become more whole?

This summer we are looking at ‘stories you missed’ in the Bible. Feel free to check out the other stories in the series here.

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