I love this story.
The healing of Naaman the Syrian.
It is such a wild story.
I’m kind of astonished it has been preserved in our Scriptures.
The whole sweep of this section of the Bible
Is all about wars and rumors of wars,
Evil kings upon evil kings upon evil kings.
And here we have a story
About the commander of the army
Of one of these evil kings.
Naaman is a mighty warrior,
But for the wrong side.
In our context,
It would be like praising Osama Bin Laden
For his skill in pulling off his attacks against the United States,
As though skill at violence in service of a wrong cause were praiseworthy.
He is also a leper.
He is unclean,
Not only according to Jewish Law,
But according to the customs of communities all over the region.
The narrator is giving us all kinds of clues
That this is not a sympathetic character.
And yet this servant girl,
This unnamed young woman,
So young as to be called a girl,
A captive who’d been carried away from her homeland,
Who had lost her family,
Who were probably killed in the same raids that took her,
Who had probably been forced to do what countless servant girls in her position
Were forced to do,
Has sympathy for him.
She offers hope.
She offers a cure
For his incurable disease.
This mighty warrior listens to her,
Or at least his wife does and he listens to his wife.
He writes a letter
Not to the prophet.
Not to Elisha himself,
But to the king of Israel.
Speaking to the highest authority he can see.
Demanding all the pomp and circumstance
His position can afford.
This mighty warrior
For the bad guys,
Who is unclean by every standard
Has the nerve
To write to his enemy and demand,
That he be healed.
I mean, this is just bananas.
But Elisha looks past his bluster.
Elisha looks at this man
Past all his horses
And his chariots
And his highhandedness
A beloved child of God
Who is hurting.
And in need.
And what does God do
When His beloved children are hurting?
He heals them.
But not always in the way we expect Him to!
Elisha may see through all the bluster
But he is not about to be disrespected.
Two can play at this game.
He doesn’t bother
To speak to Naaman himself.
He sends a messenger
To tell Naaman to go and wash himself
In the Jordan river
This response enrages Naaman.
He expected better.
He expected to be treated with the deference due his position.
He expected to get what he’d paid for.
This response is too easy,
Too like what anyone could get.
It’s not special.
It doesn’t mark him as superior,
Worthy of individual attention.
And yet it works.
Naaman’s servants call him in from his foolishness,
And remind him that if the prophet had commanded him to do something difficult,
He would have done it.
Why not do something easy?
He, (again, incredibly)
Listens to them,
And as he bathes in the Jordan river
His flesh is restored
Like as a newborn babe.
God gives generously to this man
Who has done absolutely nothing to deserve it.
To this enemy of Israel.
God doesn’t command this man to do anything difficult,
But rather something easy.
Because God’s deals are always too good to be true.
We don’t like that.
We want to earn our spot with God.
We don’t want to gently bathe in the river
To wash away our sins,
We want to scrub at them,
Obsess over them,
Like Lady Macbeth crying
“Out, damned spot!”
And we think that our self-flagellation is praiseworthy.
That it’s humble.
“I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me,”
As the Psalm says.
But I’m not so sure.
I think we are waiting for God
To command us to do something difficult.
Something that feels like
We are really earning our salvation.
That we are special.
That we are superior
To all the other shlubs
Asking God for help.
But God’s yoke is easy,
And his burden is light.
I hear there is a fear about
That to proclaim this grace,
Offered generously to all,
To is encourage a cheap grace
Rather than a costly discipleship.
But here’s the real scandal:
Grace isn’t cheap.
It is a gift
Offered to us
From the Almighty.
We don’t get what we’ve paid for.
What God is offering we could never afford.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us more.
Because even when we are on the wrong side,
God offers to heal us.
But God does so
Through the voice of the captured slave girl,
To whom we’d rather not listen.
God does so
Through the messenger of the prophet
Who can’t be bothered to observe all the dignities of our station.
God does so
Through the waters of the Jordan river,
The waters of baptism,
Which is open to everybody
Even the losers and the lost and the lonely
Because those are the only kind of people there are.
While grace may be free,
A theologian has said
That you can hardly give it away
Because it only works for losers
And no one wants to stand in their line up.
I saw a photo yesterday
Of a bench in a subway station.
It’s not a real bench.
It’s a leaning bench.
You can lean up against it
But you can’t sit on it.
Because the folks who made the bench
Don’t want homeless people to be able to sleep on it.
We give up being able to sit down
While we wait for a train
Because we cannot allow
Those who have nowhere else to sleep
To have somewhere to lie down
God gives generously.
God gives freely.
More than we could ask or imagine,
More than we could desire or deserve.
To those who are far off,
And to those who are near.
And so the question for us now is,
Will we turn our backs on this grace
Because it is too easy?
Will we turn our backs on this grace
Because it is too inclusive?
Will we turn our eyes
Not to the power of God
But to the power of money
Which we hoard up in our barns
Like the rich fool in the parable
Because we are afraid
That the God who has come with us so far
Will abandon us now?
Trusting that God’s generosity will prevail.
A future in which God continues to provide.
A God who heals even those who are on the wrong side
And who asks nothing in return but a simple thank you.
This is the God we serve.
This is the God who sets us free
From all our worries and anxieties
About pleasing Him.
Because His Son,
With whom He is well-pleased,
Has accomplished all that is necessary.
It really is that easy.
Don’t turn your back on it,
Just because it is available