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/ Weekly Message / Weekly Message 10-12-08: Naaman


Naaman was a high commander of Syria's army and had been very victorious in his military life. His name means "pleasantness" and he was a man's man lauded for his military achievements and victories; his position would have guaranteed considerable respect in neighboring Syria, then known as Aram, as well as in Israel. He would have been accustomed to getting his way, especially with social inferiors, which is what he may have considered Elisha and most everyone else in Israel. His no-nonsense approach made it difficult for him to follow the instructions he received from Elisha.

He suffered from leprosy, a skin disorder so serious that he left the limitations for a cure in his own country to seek healing in Israel. His story is told in the second book of Kings in the Old Testament.

He had won victories that not even he could explain. Surely, he thought, the pagan gods were with him as they had been with few other men in battle. Ben-Hadad, the great king of Syria had spoken so well of him publicly that he felt his success even more keenly. But if the pagan gods favored him so, why did he suffer day after day with a most disgusting and unnerving disease - his skin raw from scratching the sores that no potion medicine or priest could heal? Even his wife's servant girl noticed, suggesting he consult a prophet from her homeland in Israel, a man who lived in Samaria well to the south.

So Namaan went to the king and told him what he heard from Israel. "By all means go," the king of Syria eagerly replied. "I will send a letter to the king of Israel in your behalf." So the letter spoke thusly, "With this letter is introduced to you my servant Naaman so that you may cure him of his leprosy." Naaman confidently left, taking with him ten talents, of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing as payment for the healing he anticipated receiving.

But when Naaman reached the court of the king of Israel and submitted the introductory royal letter, Joram surprised him by tearing his robes and complaining, "Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? What man can cure leprosy? Surely the king of Syria is trying to pick a quarrel with me!" Naaman misunderstood the insights of the young servant girl and mistakenly thought the highest civil authority, the Hebrew king, should be approached.

Everyone soon began talking about what the pagan general was seeking and how distressed was the king at not being able to grant it. And soon enough, Naaman was directed to the house of the prophet Elisha who announced that the God of Israel was not in any way limited. When he reached it with his retinue of horses and chariots, he was surprised to be met by a messenger/servant rather than the prophet himself. "Go," the man tells him, "and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan and your flesh will be restored and you will be thoroughly cleansed."

"Why doesn't the prophet come out himself," Naaman raged, "and call on the name of the Lord his God? He need only wave his hand to cure me of my leprosy. Why would I wash in a dirty river in Israel when we have much better rivers in Damascus?"

But as Naaman turned to leave in disgust and in disappointment, one of his servants spoke up, "My Lord, if the prophet had told you to do some great and important thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, `Wash and be cleansed"'?

Even though Naaman had been angered by the prophet's ridiculous instructions, he had to agree with the insight of his servant. He had already gone to great expense and trouble in seeking a cure. He would do absolutely any thing, pay any price, if only he could be healed and transformed. So what if he seemed the fool wading in the Jordan's muddy waters?

Naaman pushed aside his natural repulsion and washed himself in the river not once, but seven times as instructed. And the longer he was in the river, the more he felt strange sensations surging and spreading across his body as the cool water eased the itching and took away the pain. But there was more to it than that. New life was slowly but inevitably returning. Rubbing his hands across arms and legs, over torso and face to the top of his head and bottom of his feet, he felt all the crusty sores falling away. No longer did his skin feel like the bark of a sycamore. Now it felt as tight and soft as that of a healthy young man!

Then Naaman went back and stood before Elisha. "Now I know," he shouted and professed, "that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your grateful servant."

But Elisha refused to put a price on the gift of God and said, "As surely as the Lord whom I serve lives, I will not accept a thing." Despite Naaman's repeated urging, the man of God refused any payment. He did nothing; it was God who performed the cure; Elisha was but the medium through whom the Lord worked on Naaman's behalf

"Go in peace," Elisha said. And of course, Naaman did.

In desperate circumstances, Naaman who was used to giving orders, not himself following advice, listened to his wife's lowly servant girl and obeyed her intuition. Or he could return home with his dignity intact but without the healing he longed for. It was not an easy choice for a proud and hugely successful man to make. Give up your own sense of how things should go, of how people should defer to you, of how you should conduct yourself according to your station in life, or the certainty of being healed and made whole.

Naaman already made the mistake of cherishing his pride at the close of the miracle he desired. Yet something inside him asserted itself, some hope, some glimmer of apparent truth that perhaps the crazy instructions were not as crazy as they seemed. So he took a chance, deciding to let go of his own ideas of how his healing should be accomplished, deciding to let go of his own perceptions of how the universe should be ordered. Finally he decided it was better to let God be God!

Naaman's obedience to the will and insight of a servant girl would have felt uncomfortable. How much easier it would have been to play it safe and do what came naturally, to nurse his anger and preserve his dignity. Instead, Naaman did exactly as a young girl tells him in so grave a set of circumstances and opened his heart to a greater miracle than the one for which he longed. Not only is his skin restored to its original beauty, but his soul is regenerated in faith response. Instead of a proud man, he becomes a humble one. Instead of a man incapable of knowing God, he becomes a man who knows and celebrates the fact that in all the earth there is but one God, the God who manifestly loved him and made him whole and to whom he is now introduced.

Joram, the king of Israel believed the king of Syria was merely making an attempt to start a fight because he knew it was humanly impossible to cure Naaman's skin disease. What does the response of Joram indicate about the condition of his faith? As we look at the story, we see our God is attempting to humble Naaman and condition and position him for a cure. Why did Elisha refuse to meet with Naaman when he showed up at his door and sent instead a messenger to greet him? Naaman expected to be healed on his terms because he brought a small fortune with him in an attempt to pay the dispenser of cures. How have our own expectations of how God should act in our lives and in the lives of those around us changed and been challenged over time? How was Naaman's healing and transformation a sign to disobedient Israel? God has showed so much singular and explicit attention to Israel but the people were not interested in manifesting faith response. Naaman, a pagan, hears but few details from an obscure girls servant, believes her and receives the unheard of dream of a lifetime!

Naaman's pride is defeated by God's gracious answer to his obedient response to a simple instruction. But the situation could have turned out differently and almost did. Why hadn't Elisha the courtesy to speak directly to him rather than send a messenger/servant, especially after he had made the long journey from home in Syria?

Why hadn't the prophet merely waved his hand and healed him?

Why should he, the commander of a hugely successful army, be himself commanded to wash not once but seven times in a little river in Israel?

It made no sense at the time. But despite his anger, in the face of his own bewilderment, Naaman did exactly as the prophet instructed. He dipped himself into the water and was amazed when he began to feel his body changing as the crusty sores on his skin fell away, being diluted by heavenly grace, and his flesh became pristine once again. The man who almost forfeited a miracle because of his pride humbled and properly disposed himself to receive the promise of God made him through the prophet Elisha.

Now he learned what God meant when He said, "For I am the Lord, who heals you..." Exodus 15: 26. Now he knew his entreating prayer would be answered, "Heal me, 0 Lord and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise." Jeremiah 17: 14;

Naaman caused quite a stir in Israel. Naaman's story reminds us of what Jesus said to the Pharisees who criticized his disciples for praising him on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem prior to the great glorification. "I tell you, if they kept quiet, the stones would have cried out." In this case, centuries before, Naaman is like those stones of which the Lord speaks, a man who did not belong to the Chosen People, whom God raised up to praise his name because the Chosen People would not themselves do it.

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