2 Kings 5:1-14
For much of his career, F.W. de Klerk was a sound conservative, solidly pro-apartheid politician. He rose through the ranks, yet became the one to dismantle apartheid, in direct contrast to his earlier policies.
Likewise, Mikhail Gorbechov was a solid communist, who worked his way through the ranks. Once he had become First Secretary, he saw the need for change, and introduced Glasnost and Peristroika, and the world changed.
Looking a little further back, Sir Robert Peel saw the need to reform the Corn Laws, and as Prime Minister broke with his own party over it.
Our reading from 2 Kings tells the story of a famous man who changed his mind. This man was a famous warrior, who also came to a moment of change, a moment which changed him forever.
As the story opens we are introduced to Naaman, a “great man,” a “great warrior,” “in high favour with the King of Aram”, a kingdom near to Israel. Despite being great, Naaman is like all of us, he has his troubles, in his case a health problem, a nagging case of leprosy.
Since Naaman was a vigorous man, a warrior, the medical commentators suggest it’s 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 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 rather bemused. He’s not a healer, and he thinks this must be a trick in order to start a war.
The servant had said to her mistress that “the prophet Elisha can heal.” By the time it reach 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 the facts, he decides there’s something deceitful and underhanded going on.
You can see things how things could end up, 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 doesn’t 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’s Naaman’s turn to have a hissy fit. 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 stream compared to the mighty rivers of Damascus. Why can’t I wash there? And the priests back home know how to do a healing, 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’t you 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 reaction 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 frailty. 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 didn’t trust God, didn’t 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.