The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-14
The Healing of Naaman
5 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.[a] 2 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. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”[b] 4 So Naaman[c] went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 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. 6 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.”[d] 7 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?[e] Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
8 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.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 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.” 11 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![f] 12 Are not Abana[g] 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. 13 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’?” 14 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.
- 2 Kings 5:1 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
- 2 Kings 5:3 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
- 2 Kings 5:4 Heb he
- 2 Kings 5:6 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
- 2 Kings 5:7 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
- 2 Kings 5:11 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
- 2 Kings 5:12 Another reading is Amana
Sermon: “A Dip in the Road”
“Road” pictures are about characters going on a journey, dealing with obstacles, and learning something about life as well as themselves along the way.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a good example. It stars George Clooney as Ulysses Everett McGill, a dapper, silver-tongued prisoner on a chain gang, shackled to his two chain mates, Pete and Delmar.
They escape and set out on the adventure of a lifetime, searching for treasure that Everett assures them they’ll find. One song in the film sums up their shared journey.
Man of Constant Sorrow
Naaman the Syrian was a man of constant sorrow, too. He longed to escape the shackles of “leprosy” that bound him and find the treasure, not only of health, but of acceptance.
Whatever it was that afflicted Naaman, the symptoms were impossible to miss. Were it not for his high position, he would have been an outcast. No one said anything, though—at least where Naaman could hear them.
Still, he knew about the nicknames and imagined the whispered conversations. He saw the concern in his own wife’s face when she, alone of all people, saw the extent of his illness and guessed at the pain he endured.
I would imagine that Naaman had been to every physician, holy man, and magician who promised healing, only to see all of them fail. Today’s scripture shares the long, strange journey at whose end Naaman finally obtained the relief he was looking for, as well as treasure of a sort he never thought to find.
It all started with ten Hebrew words spoken by a captive Israelite girl. “If only my Lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He’d cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman had little to lose and much to gain by heeding the young girl’s advice. Asking for and receiving a letter of introduction from his king, Naaman delivered it in person to the King of Israel. We can hope that the king waited until Naaman left the room before having a royal meltdown, tearing his robes in despair.
“Am I God,” he moaned, “to give life or death, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just see how he’s trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
Elisha heard about the faithless king’s dilemma. “Let him come to me,” Elisha said, “that he may learn there’s a prophet in Israel.” Perhaps Israel’s own king could learn that as well.
The emotionally wounded general hid his fragile ego behind a wall of military might, rumbling up to Elisha’s house with chariots and an armed escort, loaded down with a king’s ransom in silver and gold. It must have been quite a parade—just as exciting, in its own way, as this one.
Clip, The Music Man
Elisha wasn’t impressed. After all, he’d seen his mentor Elijah carried away in a blazing chariot that soared above the clouds. Naaman’s entrance, seventy-six trombones or not, couldn’t compete with that.
In fact, Elisha didn’t even come out to meet Naaman. Instead, he sent a servant with orders for the general. “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, and you’ll be clean.”
A servant—how dare he? He was, after all, Naaman, slayer of kings, conqueror of countries. His cure should be at least as show stopping as his grand entrance. The simple instructions were more like an insult—this one delivered to his face, not whispered behind his back.
An angry Naaman refused to do the one thing that would heal him. As was the case at the beginning of the story, advice from his servants saved the day.
“Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
It made sense. The great man had been ready to perform great deeds of valor or strength. What if there really was a chance he’d be cured?
So, Naaman swallowed his pride and headed for the Jordan River. No doubt gritting his teeth as he did so, he dipped himself in the muddy, shallow water seven times. Lo and behold, when Naaman came out of the Jordan for the final time, he did so as a healed man.
Not only was Naaman healed—he’d taken his first, tentative steps on a journey to wholeness and faith. It led him back to the place where, not long before, he’d made a fool of himself, the prophet Elisha’s house. This time, though, Naaman spoke with the prophet.
The newly healed general was still a work in progress. First, he tried to buy Elisha’s favor with gifts. When that didn’t work, Naaman asked for two mule loads of dirt instead. He thought the God of Israel could only be worshiped in Israel or, failing that, on Israel’s soil.
Finally, Naaman asked if he could serve both his master the king as well as Elisha’s God. That meant worshiping in the temple of Rimmon, the enemy of the Lord, and bowing down before Rimmon’s image there.
Elisha’s short reply packed a lot into three words. “Go in peace,” Elisha said, probably shaking his head with the trace of a smile on his lips.
“Go in peace” as you make your way back down the road with money you never spent, dirt you don’t need, and grace enough to bow down in the temple of an idol powerless before the might of the Lord.
“Go in peace,” Elisha said, knowing that the best he could do for this once pagan general was what he’d done for his own people, helping them understand that God’s power could work just as easily through simple gestures as through miracles and mighty deeds.
Often, like Naaman, we look so hard for God in the spectacular that we don’t see God working in the commonplace and everyday. Still, we muddle on, hoping God is with us even in our anger, fear, and sorrow, seeing past the excuses we spin to hide the truth we already know, offering us peace and, in the end, resurrection promise.
That promise is ours through One who, like a long ago prophet, brings healing and hope in ways and through people we often miss, reminding us that we’re no longer to call ourselves people of constant sorrow, but rather followers of Christ and children of God.