Some thoughts and reflections on the lectionary text for 6th Sunday after Pentecost, July 8, 2007. - revcamp
First, I think it helpful to add a few verses to this week’s text. Lectionary prints this text as II Kings 5:1-14. I would suggest adding through verse 19.
Aram - (Aramea, Aram-naharaim, Padan-Aram) The territory north and east of Palestine where Abraham’s ancestors had settled and from where the wives of Isaac and Jacob came; roughly the region of modern northern Syria and northwestern Iraq.
Prophet - (from Greek for “to speak for, to speak forth”) Designation given to accepted spokespersons of God (or their opposites, “false prophets”); a person who speaks in the name of God.
When one hears of Aram in the scriptures hear also the story of Abram who came out of Ur with the words, “My Father was a wandering Aramean.” That is to say, the very heart of monotheistic culture and the understanding of God inherited through Abram came out of Aram. Even with those roots, Aram is now a very dangerous enemy to Israel and Judah, the divided kingdom.
Jesus references this story of the cleansing of Naaman in Luke 4:27.
2 Kings 5
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
Naaman Healed of Leprosy
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. [a]
Note that the victory of Aram over Israel was because God willed it. This story is going to be a story of God’s power and the common understandings of power. Naaman is a very powerful man, who sits essentially as the Prime Minister or Vice President of Aram. He is a great warrior displaying great power in battle. He is laid low by a skin disease that if allowed to progress will strip him of all his power and send him into exile.
2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman’s salvation begins with a little Israelite girl who is in the ownership of his wife. He now has a choice to exert his power over this disease, or to let those who are powerless, a slave girl and a woman (his wife) tell him what to do.
4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents [b] of silver, six thousand shekels [c] of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman still doesn’t get it, he wants to power his way through. He goes to his King and gets permission and envoy to the Israelite King (notice the kings are not named, just their power is invoked). What’s more is that the assumption made by Naaman and his king is that the power to cure him lies with the power of the King. It is a natural assumption as Naaman was sent to Samaria, the capital of Israel (the Northern Kingdom – and thus the result of much of the quarrels and outcast status of the “Samaritans” in the time of Jesus; by Jesus’ time the fight had become about legitimacy for the capital and control of Israel). Naaman goes once again thinking that power of status, money and goods will get him what he wants.
7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
Now we begin to see more examples of powerlessness as Naaman entreats the King of Israel for healing, who recognizes he has none to offer. (When power meets power, no one wins).
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
Elisha “speaks forth” to the King of Israel and to Naaman and invites Naaman into more powerlessness. Naaman is told to come to Elisha, when the powerful, like Naaman, never expect to go, but that everyone else will come to them. Naaman has to take a journey and put himself at the mercy of another person. And then Elisha angers Naaman even more because Elisha does not come to the door to speak to Naaman himself, but sends a messenger. Elisha calls on Naaman to display powerlessness once again to practice patience dipping seven times, to display trust, going to an Israelite River, and to do what yet another servant has told him to do.
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
Naaman’s pride stands in the way of going forward to act as he should. He lets his pride overcome service to God, through the words of Elisha. Remember the story of Peter and Jesus as Jesus goes to wash the disciples feet at the Last Supper, Peter’s pride stands in the way of service to God too.
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
Unable to hear the words of service from Elisha Naaman’s servants are able to talk him through the truth of what is at hand. Please note the several times to this point when service has met power and service has won out. (servant girl/Naaman’s wife; Naaman/King of Aram; Elisha/King of Israel; Elisha’s servant/Naaman; Naaman’s servants/Naaman)
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant.”
This is a preview of Jesus and John at the River Jordan some 800 years later at the Baptism of Jesus, but has relevance in itself for the proclamation that there is no God in all the world except in Israel, which also calls us back to the story of Abram leaving Aram for Israel because that was the call of God upon his life. For Naaman he has finally submitted his power to the power of another, and grace and service win.
16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
Even after all of this Naaman doesn’t get it. The whole of Elisha is not wrapped up in power struggles and politics. Elisha heard of someone who sought the transforming power of God and offered to meet him where he was. Naaman was met by Elisha at the place of his infirmity through the powers that Naaman knew, and brought him to a new place in the understanding of God. This is a powerful lesson for us to hear, that evangelism is about answering the questions others bring with the grace and love of God, not inventing questions for others to have to wander through the maze.
17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. 18 But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.”
19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.
Elisha teaches a valuable point to all of us today. Naaman seeks to be loyal and to continue to carry out his role. Elisha does not force Naaman to change, allowing God to work that act. Moreover, Elisha allows another person “their” religion as he gives Naaman the freedom to work with his King in an idolatrous temple. We should hear echoes of this in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians as they try to discern food laws and whether they can eat foods offered to foreign Gods. Elisha offers this in the face of great tyranny from the Arameans, continued battle with the one who has just proclaimed Israel’s God the only God in the land, and brutality to come. Elisha recognized that the boundary between one person and God is more important than political or power boundaries between peoples, and sometimes we have to cross the political and societal boundaries to achieve the connection between God and another person.
- 2 Kings 5:1 The Hebrew word was used for various diseases affecting the skin-not necessarily leprosy; also in verses 3, 6, 7, 11 and 27.
- 2 Kings 5:5 That is, about 750 pounds (about 340 kilograms)
- 2 Kings 5:5 That is, about 150 pounds (about 70 kilograms)
Imagine though, that you are Elisha, a good Methodist Pastor in the time of the Revolutionary War, and the General of the British Troops, a devout Anglican, comes to you, and asks to be healed. How might you react, and do you imagine such a response as we get from Naaman?
Or do you think you could offer healing to Osama Bin Laden’s lieutenant, even knowing that the attacks would continue, and the bloodshed would persist?
Where has service “trumped” power in your life or the life of your community?
Is there a need in your community to recognize, like Elisha, that the greatest need is for someone to recognize the power of God, regardless of the political and societal barriers between you and “them”?
My enemy is not the nation or the person in power, my enemy is that which reduces life to worry and suffering.