2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10: 1-11; 16-19
Happy early Independence Day! On this 4th of July weekend, we celebrate how a scrappy, unorganized, underfed, undertrained army took on the world’s finest fighting force, best equipped navy in the world, and succeeded in spite of all cost.
War is nothing new in history; battles are nothing new in the bible. Battles for land – to capture or defend territory or resources; or battles for the kingdom of God, spreading the good news of the gospel as we see in our gospel lesson with Jesus sending out the disciples on a mission on behalf of the kingdom of God. Soldiers of the cross, as the old hymn puts it.
In our Old Testament lesson, we have a story of humor, healing, redemption, of God’s compassion intervening between archenemies, Israel and Aram (or modern day Syria). The Arameans, trace their lineage back the Noah’s son Shem. Abraham and Sarah, come from Aram. Isaac was sent back to Aram to find his wife, Rebekah, and then their son Jacob spent many years in Aram, working for his wives Leah and Rachel and building his wealth, so that the phrase “A wandering Aramean was my father” is a common declaration of faith, in the Old Testament, highlighting the nomadic roots of the people of Israel, as they travelled ultimately to Egypt and then back again to the promised land.
Aram, however, became an enemy of Israel, and battles between the two nations raged for centuries. Naaman, the 5-star army commander of Aram. He conquered. He set villages on fire. His soldiers pillaged, ransacked and killed. They stole anything of value, including taking survivors into slavery. There was no stopping Naaman and his war machine.
There was only one thing in Naaman’s way. Leprosy – the dreaded skin disease. While the text could just mean a skin condition or rash, actual leprosy was feared. There was no cure for leprosy, and death was often slow, painful and frightfully disfiguring. People with leprosy were ostracized by the community. And as we see, in our readings today, leprosy struck the rich as well as the poor.
Naaman, the mighty warrior was used to giving orders, taking prisoners. Now he found himself a captive – a prisoner to a deadly disease determined that could take his life. Naaman, was saved in the most unlikely of ways – through a young girl captive, taken in a raid into Israel.
This young girl, taken from her family – probably saw them killed before her eyes -- separated from her homeland, from her culture -- forced into servitude; willing shares with her captors. “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
This girl's actions ran totally counter to our expectations. Instead of taking satisfaction for her captor’s suffering, she was filled with compassion – like Jesus was when faced with people in need. Although a captive, this young girl, has not been conquered by hatred or fear. She shares the healing power of her faith and its resources with a man who did her great harm.
Naaman takes this information to official channels. He elicits the help of his king. So, King Ben-Hadad sends to the King Johoram of Israel ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments -- the equivalent of $700,000 dollars – along with a letter which 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 terrorized; he sees this as a guise for more military intervention from Aram.
The prophet Elisha caught wind of the request. So, Elisha sent a message to the king saying, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." Relieved, King Johoram obeys.
We can only imagine the following scene. Here comes the mighty warrior, one of the most important men in Aram, bringing his whole entourage with horses and chariot right up to the modest door of the prophet from Israel. How does Elisha react? Does he appear and accept the deference of the mighty man from Aram? Incredibly, Elisha doesn’t even bother to meet Naaman.
Elisha sends his servant to Naaman saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." Naaman is offended. As an important man, he was not used to being treated so dismissively. Naaman says, "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!" Naaman was expecting a show, befitting his rank. What was this, washing in the disgusting, muddy Jordan river! Why Damascus has more impressive, cleaner rivers to bath in! How insulting was that! So Naaman is about to leave in a huff with no intention of washing in the filthy waters in Israel. But another nameless servant arrives on the scene. One of Naaman's servants speaks up, "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?'”? Naaman reluctantly obeys and lo and behold, he is made well.
It is ironic that Naaman, the great commander, must take orders from servants to become well. First the young, captive girl. Then Elisha’s messenger. Then his servant who coaxed him to follow Elisha’s advice. Naaman finds healing in a land he conquered, in a river he distains, from people he considers beneath him. Obedience to a foreign God – conveyed by no-name servants, a prophet with a bad-attitude, standing in muddy waters healed Naaman. The God of Israel has mercy on a ruthless conqueror. What kind of God is this?
We face Independence Day in deeply uncertain and troubling times. It is imperative more than ever to stand up to evil. We as Christians are called from our place of brokenness to remember, like a little girl, where our source of hope and strength lie. Like her, like Elisha we are called to help our enemies, whomever they may be.
We are called to share the goodness we know and point the way. Because there is a healing river, there is a God of love who has taught us in Christ and gives us the grace to not return evil for evil, to point others to blessing and wholeness, even as we suffer. There is a God, whom Jesus revealed, who gives us grace to not be captive to fear while we live in uncertain times. There is a God, who this young captive, girl gave witness to, that even if we are stripped of our family, our land, forced into some kind of exile, there is a God who stays with us and gives us the power to be a voice for healing and wholeness.
As we celebrate freedom, let us especially celebrate freedom from hate. Let us choose to be made clean -- clean from fear, from animosity, from violence. Let us choose to give voice to what we know like the young captive girl did. To the freedom we have in Christ. Let us be confident that even in our own woundedness, God will use us to point the way to wholeness for others. What a blessing, we can be. Amen.