2 Kings 5:1-15
(sermon note: 11-06 Sermon note)
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, ‘Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.’
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.’ When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about an old lady who visited a doctor after falling down the stairs and injuring her hip. After giving her a hip brace, the doctor came to her and said, “You took quite a tumble. You’re going to need to take it easy and definitely avoid stairs for several weeks while you heal.” The lady had a concerned look on her face. “I suppose I could sleep downstairs, but what if I realize I need something and it’s upstairs?” The doctor responded, “Don’t you have a neighbor you could ask that could help you?” The lady, resigned to the inconvenience and discomfort of the next several weeks, replied, “Well, I suppose I could ask a neighbor.” Six weeks later, she visited her doctor for a follow up. The doctor looked her over and said, “You’re healing quite nicely, but do be very careful on the stairs from now on, ok?” Gleefully, the lady said, “That’s good news to hear, doc! So you mean I can start using stairs again?” “Yes, I think so but be careful so as not to take another tumble.” “Oh, that’s wonderful! My neighbor lent me a ladder but it’s been quite the ordeal climbing it with this hip!”
It goes to show that some healing is less painful than others. How that poor old lady managed to heal at all climbing up and down a ladder for weeks is a mystery to me! She should have just listened to that gut instinct of hers and avoided asking her neighbor for help in the first place. It could have saved herself a whole lotta unnecessary pain. But doctor’s orders are doctor’s orders…if the doc says ask a neighbor for help, you ask the neighbor for help. The doc knows what’s best for healing, or they ought to, so obeying their orders only behooves a patient. The doc didn’t know the incompetence of the lady’s neighbor so his wisdom can’t really be faulted.
Like that old lady, Naaman was a man seeking some degree of healing and was told to do something that went against his gut instinct. I mean, here was a powerful man who had the wealth to afford all manner of privilege including above-average health care. So what that leprosy was an incurable disease at the time! If anyone had the means to ease the suffering of such a disease it was Naaman. And yet money couldn’t buy such ease. No, to receive relief from his suffering Naaman was told to travel afar to meet with a prophet of all people. Not a doctor, not a spiritual healer, not an herbalist…no, a prophet, a diviner, a medium for God. Prophets were those who spoke words of judgment to leaders of nations…words of judgment and words of encouragement. Certainly not words or deeds of healing. Prophets weren’t the ones you sought out for personal bodily healing. But Naaman must have known his disease was incurable and was willing to try anything to get a little relief. So he traveled afar with all his horses and chariots and riches aplenty to exchange for radical treatment.
As if meeting with a prophet wasn’t unusual enough, the treatment Elisha offered to Naaman was completely off the wall: wash in the filthy waters of the Jordan river seven times! You’ve got to be kidding me! A man of such power and stature bathing in waters that the locals bathed their livestock in?! Almost as absurd as asking a neighbor for help! Well, maybe a little more absurd than that…it was certainly not a treatment befitting a man like Naaman. And yet it WAS a treatment befitting a man like Naaman! It was a treatment that couldn’t be bought and it was a treatment that demanded faith in God, something that Naaman had very little of. Naaman didn’t even know Elisha, let alone Elisha’s God! Elisha’s treatment both taught Naaman a little humility and introduced Naaman to the awesome power of God. Our God is an awesome God! Our God is a healing God, healing illnesses that only confound us. Our God is a loving God that heals even those who don’t know him. These are the truths about our God that are revealed in this story of healing.
Sometimes our God, the greatest of all physicians, offers a treatment that goes against our gut instinct. But guess what? Our gut instinct is only so good. Our intelligence and wisdom is only so good. There are sicknesses that only God knows how to treat and cure. I tend to believe He teaches us the treatments and cures when we’re ready to receive them. I don’t believe He withholds them from us indefinitely. But I also believe that some illnesses require radical treatments. Some illnesses simply demand that we call on the mercy of God. “I don’t need to know the why or the how, simply heal me God!” Reminds me of the words of another great prophet in scripture, Jeremiah, who cried out, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for you are my praise.” (17:14) Sometimes these are the words we must use as we anguish in our suffering. God does heal, God does save! God likes to hear it come from our mouths sometimes. Even David had to remind himself from time to time of the awesome healing power of God as we hear in his 103rd psalm: “bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits–who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” (vs. 2-4) God does forgive all our iniquities, God does heal our diseases! No other physician can claim such power!
Elisha’s words brought God’s healing to Naaman in a variety of ways. They rid Naaman of his leprosy, taught him a little humility, and exposed him to the radical healing of God. They also taught Naaman the importance of obedience as we heard in our children’s time. Sometimes God asks us to do things simply to teach us obedience. Believe it or not, obedience isn’t all that bad. It is a great way of establishing trust. God trusts those who obey his words and with trust comes blessings. Proverbs says, “my child, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.” (4:20-22) Obedience leads to trust which ultimately leads to life and healing and isn’t that what we all want? God wants to give us life and healing! Sometimes we just have to listen to and obey his radical treatment. And most importantly give thanks for it! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.