Bible Reading Luke 4:22-28
Jesus warns us what happens when we become so familiar with our faith in God that we take him for granted, which leads to being surprised and even doubting his good actions…
Everyone there said good things about Jesus. They were amazed to hear him speak such wonderful words. They said, “How is this possible? Isn’t he Joseph’s son?” Jesus said to them, “I know you will tell me the old saying: ‘Doctor, heal yourself.’ You want to say, ‘We heard about the things you did in Capernaum. Do those same things here in your own hometown!’” Then he said, “The truth is, a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown. “During the time of Elijah it did not rain in Israel for three and a half years. There was no food anywhere in the whole country. There were many widows in Israel during that time. But the fact is, Elijah was sent to none of those widows in Israel. He was sent only to a widow in …Sidon. “And there were many people with leprosy living in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha. But none of them were healed; the only one was Naaman. And he was from the country of Syria, not Israel.” (ERV)
Message God Accepts Naaman who enters into Covenant Living 2 Kings 5:1-17,19
We will flesh out just one of Jesus examples about how God has always felt the need to reach out beyond the borders of his own people, that is, beyond his universal love for all of his creation.
2 Kings 5 begins with the story of a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, an enemy who had led successful battles against Israel. We aren’t sure exactly how strong the tensions were between the two nations at the point of this story, but it seems at best there was an uneasy peace.
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. (2 Kings 5:1) *
The Arameans were an ancient people. The king was Ben-Hadad II, who was later assassinated by Hazael whom Elisha anointed -- an assignment God had given Elijah but never got to it. Aram became the Assyrian Empire, but by Jesus’ day the Romans had shortened it to Syria. (This is why Jesus says Syrian, while in today’s passage, he is Aramean). It is striking theology that in an age where the reach of gods were defined primarily by of geo-political borders, and whichever God was stronger was proved on the battlefield; that the Lord would reach beyond his borders, that he would assign a foreign king to be anointed over a foreign land, and even more that he would grant success to an enemy of God’s people, and even more that some of these battles were granted against God’s people (when punishment for sin doesn’t seem to be the reason). And that this military commander is named a valiant soldier -- a phrase reserved only for Israel’s best soldiers and judges, (such as Gideon and David) and the only Gentile in the Bible to merit such a description.
But sickness also knows no boundaries and he contracted the early stages of a skin disease. Leprosy was a generic term used for all sorts of skin diseases. We know it is in the early stages or he would have already been quarantined from society lest he give the disease to someone else.
Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:2,3)
So here is a captive servant in enemy territory, serving the wife of the enemy military chief. It is hard to wrap our heads around why this girl would act as she did. Maybe she just wanted to prove to him that her God of the Universe is more powerful that the gods of Aram. Or maybe they treated her well, or maybe it was just in her godly nature to care -- but for whatever reason, it took great faith in God’s ability and desire to heal, and great courage from her lowly position to speak about it to her mistress. But she did. She told the wife, who told her husband. She is a wonderful example of faith, and courage. Strive for it.
Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “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 of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing (2 Kings 5:4,5)
Naaman hears hope and promptly goes to the king and asks permission to go to Israel. The king, probably fearful of losing to disease the commander that had brought so much success to the nation was thrilled at this possibility of hope and wants to clear the way for his commander by a letter to the king. So excited - or desperate - about the prospect he sent with him ample resources to make sure it happens. In today’s terms, almost 2.6 million dollars’ worth.
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.” 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!” (2 Kings 5:6,7)
The recommendation letter which the text seems to be sent in terms of sincere genuine hope is received very differently by Joram, (or Jehoram, depending on your translation). There is a play on very similar sounding words emphasizing how Israel’s king went from reading (the letter) to rending (his robes) – on word play we can almost parallel but not quite. It highlight the connection of the reading with the depth of mourning and lament and complaint and in this case – his terror. He read between the lines what wasn’t there and put words and attitude into the printed words of King Ben-Hadad II. A letter of recommendation becomes a threat of war.
Can we give people the benefit of the doubt or do we prefer to believe the worst of everyone and jump to conclusions based on our own perceptions? Has anyone ever read and added between the lines of your conversation, letter, text or email words and attitudes that were never said nor intended? It was also clear that this king had little contact with Elisha and maybe even with God, for the king doesn’t even seem to have thought of the prophet, and his only thought of God was that when push comes to shove with this kind of demand, the king knew he wasn’t God.
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.” (2 Kings 5:8)
In addition to the king not thinking of Elisha, there is some evidence that the prophet was not known, or at least, not welcome, around the palace. Elisha sent a messenger, and Naaman had to be re-routed from the palace out to Elisha’s home in the countryside of Samaria.
It is true that sometimes we expect too much from God -- not that anything can be too much, he can do anything -- but we expect things that God may not choose to want to give us for whatever reason he chooses. On the other hand, sometimes we expect too little from God, as if he was just a really old man who used to have power but is no longer actively working with power and purpose in his world. Therefore, when something is truly needed, we don’t even think of turning to him in our need, and believe it all is truly up to ourselves…
So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 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.” (2 Kings 5:9,10)
Elisha sent a messenger to his king, probably because he wasn’t welcome, but it also could be that by not bothering to come in person to the highest political power in the nation. He could be sending a message to the king that it was God and not Jehoram who was the highest power in the nation, and it is God who is really in control, not only of the nation, but the world.
He did the same for Naaman, even though Naaman had come right to his front door. Elisha was making sure that Naaman would truly humble himself. He could not come as a conquering soldier who felt he had the power, wealth, or status to demand his miracle from this foreign God. In fact, while Naaman may not have realized it, it is made clear to us right off the bat in the first verse, that all of the power, wealth and status was granted only by God’s gracious empowering gifts. Naaman, however, groused over this lack of respect to himself, a visiting dignitary, and what he considered distasteful instructions:
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. Are not Abana (Ab-aw-naw) and Pharpar (Par-par), the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. (2 Kings 5:11-12)
We often expect that there needs to be something done that is super special - some big fuss on our end - magical words or rituals or motions to earn or force God do what we want. I wonder how often we second guess God’s instructions to us because of our pride, or our preference, or our sense of propriety, or any other reason. Or to think we have a better plan for ourselves than he does for us. All of this needed to be pushed out of Naaman’s mind. And he needed his servants to help him.
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’!” 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. 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. So please accept a gift from your servant.” 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. (2 Kings 5:13-16)
Naaman learned something important. He now understands that Elisha’s God is the true and only God, and that it isn’t wealth, status, position, incantations, or rituals, or any other works that moved God to action. It was nothing but God’s gracious acceptance of himself, and his trusting obedience to his instructions as given through Elijah. We too need to immerse ourselves in the cleansing, healing power of God's love and to put ourselves completely in tune with the rhythms of his healing waters through our faithful obedience to him.
And in this case with this foreigner, just to make sure the story doesn’t get turned around after the fact. The retelling of stories can easily get twisted. In this case, that Namaan, instead of giving gifts of gratefulness and commitment, that he paid for his healing; or because he gave gifts, this powerful healing God was now beholden to Naaman, as if he could be bought or owned. Elisha refused any gift to prevent any such misunderstandings. It was not Elisha, Naaman, nor anyone else that created or caused this miracle -- none but God alone.
“If you will not, [accept a gift] ” 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... “Go in peace,” Elisha said. (2 Kings 5:17,19)
So Naaman wants some Israeli dirt -- remember how I said gods were associated with the land? Since he would be returning to Syria, he wanted some land of Israel to better worship the God of Israel. He may have been very literal in thinking “there is no God in all the earth but in Israel(‘s) earth.” (as if God were literally in the dirt and so he wanted some). However you explain his thinking, it sounds kind of silly, not only to us, but according to one commentator, it was meant to sound silly even then. It is likened to Jonah’s response to the sailors on the stormy sea. “I am running away from my God who created all the heavens and the earth and is everywhere.” How do you escape that presence? And how do you contain God in some soil? The idea is to make us laugh, and then to challenge us who are laughing -- Is the story about God’s acceptance and conversion of foreign, pagan Syrians (or Ninevites)? Or to confront the entrenched attitudes of God’s people who feel they exclusively possess God rather than God possessing them?
Naaman promises that he would never give any heart-felt worship and sacrifices except to the Lord of Elisha and Israel. You might say he entered into a covenant relationship -- an exclusive commitment to the one true God - a commitment to which he promised worship and obedience, and from which he receives God’s Lordship based solely on God’s gracious acceptance of him.
All of this is made possible because a brave young servant who was hauled away to a foreign land to serve a powerful foreign enemy -- decided to have the faith and courage to speak of God’s power to her superiors when the king himself had lost his way…
Like the king, are we stuck in favoring only our land, our people, our preferences, our expectations while forgetting God and his love for all creation? Do we think it is all up to us, or can we learn to rely on God and his faithful to usher in God’s will?
Like the servant girl, are we bold in sharing God’s possibilities to others? And confident that God will do -- not our expectations, but that he will accomplish his purposes?
Like Naaman, are we able to swallow our pride in human power and wealth and status and humble ourselves to do whatever God wants to do with whomever and however he wants to do it? Can we obediently immerse ourselves in his will and his way? Can we understand that no matter how much we do or give or serve -- God will never be indebted to us? Our relationship with him and gifts from him are always based entirely on his gracious acceptance of ourselves and others -- and we promise to serve him in response to all he has already committed to be for us.
* All texts are NIV unless otherwise indicated