Wash and Be Cleaned

July 3rd, 2022 homily on 2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-24 by Pastor Galen

In a Moment, Everything Changed

Ashley was one of those people who seemed to have it all. She was brilliant, good looking, and incredibly talented. She had recently gotten married to a wonderful guy. Life was looking really good for Ashley. And then one day everything changed, when she and her husband were driving in their car late at night, and were broadsided by a drunk driver. Her husband emerged without a scratch, but Ashley was in a coma for several weeks. When she eventually did recover, she was unable to walk. Eventually, through physical therapy, she was able to regain some mobility, but to this day she uses a wheelchair to get around. 

It’s amazing how life can change in a single instant. One day we’re going about our business, with a particular set of goals and dreams, and priorities, and then all of a sudden something happens that radically reorients the trajectory of our lives.

Such was the case with Naaman, the successful military commander of the country of Aram who was favored by the king, and seemed to have it all – until he was struck with leprosy. Until then, Naaman had the power, money and prestige to get whatever he wanted or needed. He had a great family, a beautiful house, a wonderful wife. He had servants and soldiers who did whatever he told them to do. He had access to the best doctors and medical care that money could afford.

And so, you can imagine his shock when physician after physician told him that his disease was incurable. 

And not only incurable, but debilitating, degenerative, and life-threatening. 

His leprosy would one day cause him to become crippled, or paralyzed, and possibly even blind. There was nothing that he could do to prevent this, nothing that anyone could do to help him. The diagnosis was that he would be forced to live with this disease for the rest of his life, and slowly and painfully watch everything that he had worked so hard to gain gradually slip through his fingers.

Worst of all, because leprosy was believed to be highly contagious, Naaman would soon be banished from his friends and family, forced to live a life of loneliness and isolation. Naaman’s diagnosis was essentially a life sentence of solitary confinement.

A Young Girl’s Testimony

That is, until Naaman’s wife’s young servant girl spoke up. Forcibly taken away from her homeland, ripped away from her friends and family, it would have been easy for her to become embittered or cynical. Naaman himself may have been the one who took her captive. She had every right to hate him, every reason to rejoice in his impending demise.

And yet she spoke up. She spoke up with compassion, but also a sense of pride and dignity. Even in captivity, even after being forced to travel over 700 miles away from her home, she still remembered her homeland and she still remembered her God. And she remembered the prophet Elisha who performed miracles. And despite everything that she had experienced, she wanted her captor to know and experience the healing power of God.

And so she spoke up. “If only my master were with the prophet in Israel. Surely the prophet Elisha would be able to cure him of his disease.”

A Desperate and Extravagant Gift

Now, the fact that Naaman believed her, and that he went to such great lengths to travel all the way to Israel to find the prophet Elisha speaks to the power of this young servant girl’s testimony. She must have been known to be honest and trustworthy, or Naaman would have never believed her. 

But of course, Naaman was also incredibly desperate.

And so Naaman went to the king, who immediately drafted a letter to the King of Israel and sent Naaman along with “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.” (2 Kings 5:5).

Now this was an exorbitant sum of money.  Ten silver shekels was the average annual income in those days, and you could purchase a literal ton of grain for one gold shekel. So the ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten garments that Naaman brought with him were equal to 750 million dollars! 

Naaman was no doubt hopeful that such a large sum of money would impress and convince the prophet Elisha to heal him, despite everything he and his people had done to the Israelites.

Cleansed and Renewed

You probably know the rest of the story. Naaman arrives in Israel and delivers the letter to the king of Israel, most likely assuming that a prophet who had the ability to cure a disease such as leprosy must be a member of the royal court. 

The king of Israel thinks that the Aramean king is trying to start yet another battle with him (they have been fighting off and on for many years), because he knows that neither he nor anyone in his royal court has the power to heal Naaman. He tears his kingly robes as a sign of mourning and distress.

But the prophet Elisha hears of it and sends word to the king requesting that Naaman come to him to be healed.

Naaman travels to Elisha’s house, but Elisha doesn’t even come to the door. He sends a messenger out to Naaman, instructing him to go and wash seven times in the waters of the muddy Jordan River.

Naaman is offended. He just traveled 700 miles and brought ¾ of a billion dollars to be healed by this prophet, and the prophet tells him to wash in a dirty river? He could have washed in much cleaner rivers back home! At the very least he had expected the prophet to come outside and meet him and be impressed by the large sum of money that Naaman brought to him, and wave his arms in the air and call on his God to heal Naaman!

But Elisha doesn’t seem to be impressed by Naaman’s power, wealth, or prestige. Instead, like Naaman’s servant girl, he simply wants Naaman to know that there is a God in Israel who has the power to heal. And he knows that all that God requires is humble obedience and trust.

Naaman storms off, back in the direction of his homeland, but his servants chase after him and convince him to at least give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ve come all this way, Naaman might as well do what the prophet instructed him to do.

And so Naaman finally humbles himself, and obediently dips into the waters of the Jordan River seven times. And when he comes up after the seventh time he is healed. He is made new, cleansed of all his leprosy, his life is restored to him. His skin is made whole again, like the flesh of a young child. Naaman has gotten his life back.

Humble Obedience

Now it’s important for us to note how and why Naaman was healed.  Because, in the end, it wasn’t because of his vast sums of money or because of his power or prestige, or because of the fact that he was favored by the king. No, Naaman was healed because he was willing to believe the testimony of a compassionate servant girl, and because he humbly obeyed the simple command of an Israelite prophet.

Now I know that the words “humble” and “obedient” are not necessarily in fashion. Our society teaches us to “believe in ourselves,” and to “do whatever makes us feel good.”

And we as a country were founded on principles of freedom and independence. In fact, this weekend we celebrate our nation’s independence. 

But the Israelite prophets throughout the Hebrew Bible repeatedly called the people of every strata in society to turn to God in humility and trust, to remember their need for and dependence on God.

We see this, too, in Jesus sending his disciples out two by two, without a purse to carry money or a bag to carry extra clothes, and without even an extra pair of sandals, to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come near. When the 72 were sent out, they weren’t to rely on whatever wealth, or status, or privilege, or whatever education they had or didn’t have. Rather, they were to accept the hospitality of strangers, and to look to God and to others for their provision.

Baptism and Communion

It is significant that when Naaman immersed himself in the waters of the muddy Jordan river, he was going down into the waters of the same river in which, centuries later, John the Baptist would invite people to repent and be baptized. The same river in which Jesus himself would be baptized as a humble expression of obedience to the mission to which he had been called. 

In humble obedience, Jesus would go on to carry out his mission of proclaiming God’s love for all people, giving his life on the cross as the ultimate expression of God’s love, rising again to remind us that this life is not all there is, and that there is hope even beyond the grave. 

This is what we remember when we are baptized – how we are cleansed and renewed and forgiven, not because of our wealth, or status, or privilege, but because of the mercy and grace of God. And it’s what we remember when we celebrate communion – how Jesus gave his life freely for us. 

An Invitation to All

It’s interesting to note that Naaman had been willing to go to great lengths to be healed. To travel so many miles, and to part with such an exorbitant sum of money. And yet, he was at first unwilling to humble himself by dipping into the waters of the muddy Jordan river. Perhaps it seemed too simple, too undignified. As his servant pointed out, Naaman would have been willing to obey if he had been told to do some difficult or heroic deed. But it wasn’t until he was willing to humble himself, to let go of how he was perceived by others, to put aside his wealth and status and privilege, and to engage in such a simple act as dipping into the waters of the muddy Jordan River, that he was healed and made new. 

Friends, this morning, I don’t know what may be holding you back from giving your all to Jesus. Perhaps you’ve worked hard to get where you are, and you don’t want to risk losing everything you’ve worked so hard to gain. Perhaps you’re worried about what others will think of you if you follow whatever step it is that God has called you to take. 

But it’s important to remember that no matter how secure we may think we are in this life, no matter what we feel like we have earned or how much we have achieved, the reality is that in an instant all of that could change.

And so rather than trying to find our security in what we have earned or achieved, how much better it is to turn to God in humble trust and obedience. To recognize our need and dependence on God for the very breath in our bodies. To humble ourselves and be willing to go wherever it is that God has called us, to do whatever it is that God is calling us to do. 

This morning may we turn to God in humble obedience, that we too may be cleansed and renewed, and so that we too may testify to the grace of God in our lives, so that all may come to know and experience the healing waters of God’s love.

Amen.

Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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