Commentary for July 7, 2013by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
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2 Kings 5:1-14Naaman’s story provides us with a sterling opportunity to consider the place of the “mighty” and the “lowly” in God’s story. Naaman is pictured as a powerful man, one who hangs out with kings and generals and other such powerful men — yet, he is humbled by a pugnacious disease that simply will not go away.
Surrounding Naaman are the usual bevy of servants and underlings — and it is through these less powerful characters that the healing word of the Lord comes to him. Even when Naaman makes it to Samaria to visit with Elisha, the prophet does not speak to him directly but sends a lowly messenger.
Naaman, of course, is famously stubborn — indignant, actually — that he would have to abase himself in order to have his leprosy cured. Ah, how hard it is for any of us to lower ourselves, even (and especially?) to receive the blessing of God!
Psalm 30Psalm 30 was the reading earlier in Year C (click here.) In the context of the Naaman story, v. 2 is particularly poignant; v. 11 is awfully fun to imagine with a hardened soldier laughing and dancing in his great joy!
Isaiah 66:10-14Isaiah gives us beautiful imagery for the salvation of God (which salvation is symbolized here in Jerusalem.) Seeing an infant deeply nourished and satisfied at the breast of a mother is one of life’s most delicate and precious events.
Too, the “motherly” imagery for God is impressive — imagine the Heavenly One dandling babes on knees!
Psalm 66:1-9All you have to do, if you want to know just how great God is, is come and see for yourself. What else can I say?
Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16Working for the good of all is the work of the church.
It’s hard work, no doubt! Paul encourages us with a word that preachers do well to remember (especially on Monday morning — 🙂 “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.”
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20Jesus is planning to make stops in several villages, so he sends in the scout team. Where will the people likely be receptive, and where will he encounter resistance?
No doubt, Jesus fully intends to be the Christ for any and all who will receive him — but the fact of the matter is, some folks are just more hard-headed (and hard-hearted) than others.
The “mission team” that is made up by the seventy is pretty pumped when they return — this strikes me as a fairly common occurrence as I’ve worked with groups who have taken time to get outside of themselves and go on similar trips and service projects over the years.
Jesus is happy for them and shares in their joy — and also reminds them not to get too high on themselves. It is, after all, the power of God in them that has accomplished the miraculous.
May it be so in each of us and all of us.
Sermonby the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
In the late 1890s, Alfred Nobel awoke one morning and went down to breakfast. When he picked up his paper, he was startled to see his own obituary – Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, devised a way for more people to be killed in war than ever before, and he died a very rich man.
It was actually Nobel’s older brother who had died and the newspaper apologized for their mistake, but reading his own obituary had a profound effect on Alfred. He decided he did not want to go down in history as a man who grew rich off the death, destruction and misery of others.
So, he changed his life. He dedicated much of the rest of his fortune to the creation of the Nobel Peace prize, in order to counteract the effects of his invention of dynamite.
Alfred Nobel had a moment of crisis, a moment which first floored him and then changed him. Changed the way he thought and changed the way he acted.
Our lesson from 2 Kings tells of another crisis moment in the life of another famous man; a famous warrior. This man also came to a moment of change, a moment of healing, a moment which likely changed him forever.
As the story opens we are introduced to Naaman, a “great man,” a “great warrior,” “in high favor with” the King of Aram, a kingdom near to Israel. Despite being great, Naaman is like all of us, he has his troubles, most particularly a nagging case of leprosy.
Since Naaman was a vigorous man, a warrior, it is likely that he had something like psoriasis or eczema or an allergic reaction to something in his environment rather than the debilitating disease we know as leprosy. Nonetheless, the social stigma for a skin disease of any sort was great in the ancient Near East. Naaman must have been a very great warrior indeed to have overcome this handicapping condition to become such an important person in his kingdom.
As the story unfolds, an Israelite girl is a servant in Naaman’s household. She tells her mistress who tells her husband who tells the king about a prophet over in Israel who can help. The king says, “By all means go. I’ll send a letter to the king of Israel requesting his help.” So Naaman goes, carrying gold and goods as gifts.
In Israel, Naaman presents himself and his letter to the king. The letter reads – “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” The king of Israel is totally bumfuzzled. He is not a healer. This must be a trick in order to start a war.
This part of the episode reminds me of an old children’s game we called “telephone.” You sit
In a circle and the first person whispers a message to the next person and it goes around the circle, no repeating, and then the last person in the circle tells everyone the message. It is usually hilariously wrong. Hmmm. Sounds a little like communication in some churches.
The servant said to the wife “the prophet Elisha can heal.” By the time it went through wife to husband to king to letter to other king, it became “King can heal.” And things keep going; the king immediately assumes the worst of the other king; failing to check things out, he decides there is something deceitful and underhanded going on. Never seen that in a church, have you?
This could’ve gotten bad in a hurry, but Elisha stepped in and maybe prevented a war. He invited Naaman to come to his house for healing. So Naaman came. But the fireworks weren’t over yet.
When Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, the prophet does not come out to greet him or look him over. He just sends out a message, “Go wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will be restored and you shall be clean.”
Now it is Naaman’s turn to act out. The prophet has disappointed him. Naaman had an idea of how he expected things to proceed when you visited a prophet for healing – He expected the prophet himself to examine him and perform a ceremony full of ritual and pyrotechnics and all he got was a servant with a message.
And the message itself! Bathe in the Jordan? Not really a river, just a piddlin’ little creek compared to the mighty rivers of Damascus. Why can’t I wash there? And the priests back home know how to do a healing up right – with lots of bells and smells and pomp and circumstance.
So, in a huff, Naaman takes his gold and his garments and goes away in a rage. And again, servants and common sense intervene and prevail. They say, “Look, Master, if the prophet had asked you to do some great feat, you would have done it. Your problem is your pride; all he did was say, ‘Wash and be clean.’ Can you not do this simple thing?”
So, Naaman calmed down and listened to his servants and went to the Jordan and immersed himself seven times and he was cleansed and healed.
The great man Naaman did what was, for him, a very difficult thing: he humbled himself. He put aside his pride and his prejudice and his preconceived notions and his pushback against simplicity and he decided to trust. Now, Elisha didn’t trust God, because he didn’t know God. And he didn’t trust Elisha because he didn’t know Elisha either. But he did trust his servants and with that small sliver of faith – he was healed.
All of us need healing. All of us have places of broken-ness and weakness. No matter how great or rich or powerful or successful we may be; we all have blemishes and shortcomings. None of us is perfect and all of us need to be healed of something.
And we all need to learn from Naaman’s experience. We need to learn to find a way to trust and a place where we can feel safe enough to let go of our pride and our pain long enough to let the gentle and healing power of God’s love wash over us.
We also need to remember that we have all been called to be servants to one another. Notice again that Naaman did not trust God, did not trust Elisha the prophet, but he did trust his servants.
We are servants to one another. We may be the only voice of hope and love another person in our life can hear. We all need to take responsibility for speaking gently to and loving fully those whom God has placed in our lives, being always a living reminder to them of the love that is God.
Amen and amen.