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By Catherine McFie
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Sunday 3rd July
 

By Catherine McFie posted July 3rd, 2022

Reading :2 Kings 5:1 – 14

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 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.’ 4 So Naaman 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.’ 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? 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! 12 Are not Abana 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.

Reflection

Our reading opens with an introduction to Naaman who was a commander in the army of Israel’s enemy, Aram. He was a man of many accomplishments, and the writer of our text emphasised Naaman’s importance in his community by repeating how well he was thought of – he was a great man, a person who was favoured by his master, he was a mighty warrior. The surprising comment in this list of accolades is that the praise Naaman enjoyed were a result of the fact that “the LORD had given victory to Aram”. That’s right the LORD had worked through Naaman to bring defeat to the army of Israel. However, among this list of accomplishments there is also a but coming, Naaman suffered from a skin disease. Being a might warrior, did not make Naaman immune to the ailments associated with simply being human. Unlike many ailments the body can suffer from, a skin disease is visible for others to see. A type of disease was often considered a sign of judgement, it made someone ritually unclean, and this resulted in social isolation. Not ideal for a high-profile person like Naaman, the person you want your army to trust when he leads them into battle.

We are then briefly introduced to a young maidservant who worked for Naaman’s wife. This girl was a victim of war and had been taken from her home on a raid against Israel. She is not there by choice, but she probably witnessed the distress Naaman’s skin disease has caused him, his wife and their household and she chose to try and help. The girl makes what seems to be a simple comment to Naaman’s wife “If only my lord were with prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him…”. Notice how sure this girl was. She didn’t say she thought or hoped the prophet could help but she was definite that Naaman would be cured if he was with the prophet, no doubt about it. One thing led to another and before you know it Naaman had permission, and a supporting letter, to visit the King of Israel.

As Naaman set off to see the king of Israel he took with him and excessive amount of gold and silver, another indication of the position this man held in his community. Was this an attempt to buy a cure if all else failed? When he arrived at the court of the king of Israel, we hear the content of the letter and the fact that Naaman was seeking a cure but the king of Israel does not take to kindly to the letter. The King of Aram had assumed that any prophet in Israel would be supported by the king, but this was not the case. The king of Israel had actively opposed the worship of the God of the prophet and had at times sought to kill the prophets in his kingdom. This letter brought a request that was impossible for the king to fulfil, for although he did not worship God, he knew that only God could provide the kind of miracle that this letter requested for Naaman. The king took the request as an attempt to pick a quarrel and tore his clothing as a sign of his distress.

When Elisha heard about what has happened with the king of Israel, he sent a message to the king, first asking why he was so distressed by the request and secondly asking the king to send Naaman to him so that he may learn that there was in fact a prophet in Israel, even if the king did not recognise or support this fact.

When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house he is greeted by a servant who passed Elisha’s message on to him. The instructions were straightforward “Go wash in the Jordon seven times and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean”. Rather than being relieved that a cure could be achieved so simply Naaman walked away angry. Really! What was there to be angry about, a simple dip in the river and the skin disease would be gone. Then we get to root of the problem – Naaman’s pride had been hurt. Firstly, Elisha sent a servant to see him, rather than deliver the instructions himself. The instructions were just that, there was no elaborate incantations spoken or marvellous signs to witness, there was no dramatic calling upon the name of God – just simply go and wash in the Jordan. The mention of the river Jordan was also problematic for Naaman because he knew that there were much more impressive rivers back home in Damascus, so he was also annoyed that the simple instructions were so specific.

Before Naaman had a chance to leave, one of his servants intervenes and challenged him. Why would you not do what has been asked? Is it because it is nothing more than washing in a river? Would you have been this angry if you had been asked to do something more difficult or dangerous? Naaman seemed to realise how unreasonable he was being and so he goes down to the river Jordan. While we are not given more details we can imagine what it must have been like for this man, trying to immerse himself in what was really nothing more than a stream. However, after seven times his skin was restored just as he was told it would be.

Our reading stops there but if we were to read on, we would see that that Naaman returns to the prophet and declares his faith in God.

There are different ways to look at this passage but there were two things that stood out for me has I have reflected on this reading.

The first was Naaman’s reaction to the simple instructions to wash seven times in the river Jordan. While we are given some insights in the passage as to why Naaman is annoyed he is also questioning what God has asked him to do. While he was not impressed with the process and thought a man in his position deserved something more dramatic, he questions why he needed to use the river Jordan. Maybe he had a point, what was so special about the river Jordan anyway. But isn’t Naaman just like us in many ways. Don’t we also question what God asks us to do, whether that is as individuals us or as congregations. We do don’t we. Sometimes that is because God is asking us to do something that takes us out of our comfort zone, or it could be something that challenges us to change our views or perspective, or somethings we are asked to do something that is simple and easy and like Naaman we struggle with the ides that God’s work for us is straightforward.

While we may question what God is asking us to do, I think we also question how God is asking us to do something. Often, we are not as lucky as Naaman to get very specific instructions, but rather than pausing and taking time to ask God how we are to what we are being asked, we rush in and come up with our own way. Don’t get me wrong I think being self-reliant has its place but often when we come up with our own solutions, we put boundaries around what we are willing to do, effectively limiting the impact that a particular action could have on the effectiveness of what God was asking us of us.

In the medical drama New Amsterdam, Max, the new medical director, call the doctors together and asks them “how can I help”. This takes the doctors by surprise because they are used to having limits put on assistance offered – I can do this or this. However, asking “how can I help” empowers them to ask for what would really make a difference.

This brings me to the second thing that stands out for me in this passage and that was about where there was wisdom in the story. Where did the words or ideas that made a difference come from? If you look back over the story, we see that they came from the maidservant who told Naaman’s wife about the Elisha, they came from Elisha’s servant who passed on Elisha’s words and they come from Naaman’s servant who challenged him to think about what he was doing. All of these people would have been people who were unseen in their communities or considered to worthless or simply overlooked because of their role. Yet, we would have been no story without them and Naaman would have had no cure.

I wonder how we listen to the necessary voices in our community when it comes to doing what God asks us. As an example, if we feel called to do something to help combat loneliness in our community do we come up with ideas on our own, set up different activities and see what happens. Or do we take the time to understand what it means to be lonely, make contact with those who are already working in this area and ask what matters or even speak to those who are lonely and ask how we can help? In other words do we listen to the voices in our community for those words of wisdom that help us really achieve what we are being called to do? Of do we believe we have all the answers?

There was a reason why Naaman had to bathe in the river Jordan, and that is simply that was what God, via Elisha, asked Naaman to do. It is as simple as that. This was not a negotiation, or something that Naaman could control. God spoke and if Naaman wanted to be cured he knew what he had to do.

God is at work in our churches, our communities, ourselves. This passage challenges us to pause and consider whether we are listening to what God is asking us to do or are we doing what we think God is asking us to do. We are also challenged to pause and think about whose voice to we pay attention to when it comes to God’s work, the voice that echoes our own way of thinking or the voices that challenge us to really make a difference.

Amen.

To Ponder

  • Think about a time that you have said no to God and reflect on why and whether you would do things differently now.

Prayer Points

  • Pray for the victims of war and those who are trapped in slavery
  • Pray for those living areas where water is a scarce resource and the impact that has on different aspects of their life.

 


Speaking through Autumn image

 


Speaking through Autumn by Catherine McFie

Red, yellow, tan, copper, light green, beige, Different trees, different colours, Some branches bare, some still laden with leaves, Lord, the changes in the trees remind me of the changes in me, I am not the same now as I was this time last year, I am not the same in the morning as I am in the evening, At times I want nothing more than to come into your presence and worship you, At other times I go on my way without a thought for you.

Lord, as the trees become bare and the leaves flutter to the ground I know that this is temporary and new life will follow after a period of rest, Lord, this reminds me that there are parts of my life that need to die so you can become a greater part of me.

Lord, the evergreen trees remind me of your faithfulness Faithfulness through the different seasons of my life Lord, I thank you that you are evergreen.

Lord I thank you for Autumn and the lessons that it teaches. Lord I thank you for the colour change and the promise of new life that it brings But I thank you most of all for the evergreen……