God Healed Naaman
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on February 12, 2012, the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany. The text is 2 Kings 5:1-14.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the first lesson today we heard the story of Naaman’s healing. It is a story from long ago, but it contains wonderful truths that can teach us valuable lessons today. I suspect that every one of us here today can identify ourselves with one or more of the folks who are in this story…
Naaman has everything in the world going for him. He is successful in his career, he has lots of money and possessions, and he is well-liked and respected by his nation. Naaman lived in the nation just north of Israel, the land of Aram (present day Syria). He was the military Chief of Staff to the king. He and his army had lots of success in their battles with Israel. His wealth came from the spoils of war. At the zenith of his life, he contracted the dreaded disease of leprosy. That disease was the AIDS disease of that day. People feared it, wouldn’t allow themselves to be around folks with leprosy, and thought that people who had it must have done something bad to deserve it.
Naaman was desperate for a cure. We know how desperate he was by what he does. He actually listens to the advice of the servant girl from Israel, one of the captives taken in battle. She tells him to go to Israel and get help from the prophet there. He then risks his reputation and standing in the eyes of his own king when he repeats the servant girl’s words to his king. The king for some reason writes a letter to the king of Israel that Naaman can take with him. So Naaman travels at great risk to himself and his retinue into a hostile land. He takes lots of money with him, figuring he can buy his cure. And what happens during his journey is not what he expected.
He meets the king of Israel. It is not a good meeting. The reason, says one Bible commentator, is because this king is a “bad” king. Instead of graciously receiving this guest, telling him about the power of Yahweh God, or sending him to one of the prophets of Yahweh, this king rails against the king of Aram and even against God. We figure this king is Jehoram, because the Bible records this same sort of reaction another time. He lost a battle and threw all the blame on others and did not call upon Yahweh.
It is the prophet, Elisha, who intercedes at this point. He has heard of the king’s ranting and of Naaman’s problem. He sent word that Naaman should come to him “that he might know there is a prophet in Israel.” Now comes the part of the story that I find the most interesting. It is the contest of wills. It has to do with Naaman’s understanding of life and Elisha’s understanding of life. Naaman has met with 2 kings, he is coming with a retinue of horses carrying money, and he expects to be treated as someone really important who can pay for whatever is needed. Elisha doesn’t even go out to meet Naaman. Instead he sends a messenger with instructions, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” What is Naaman’s reaction? He became angry and said, “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!” Then goes on to say that the rivers in his own country were better than this little Jordan River. Now we get to see how God works. It happens twice in this story. God speaks through the lowly, through folks that others might consider the least in the eyes of the world. Earlier it had been the servant girl, and now one of his man servants said to Naaman, “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?’
So, Naaman does something that should sound very familiar to us here today. I want you to have the image of baptism in your mind. Naaman goes down to the River Jordan. When he goes down to the Jordan to wash, he was lowering his own walls of pride and arrogance. Yes, he lowered his body into the water. When he reemerged from the water, he was cleansed of his disease. The writer of Kings tells us that his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
Today, here at Resurrection, we will participate in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Edward Jackson Neihoff will be baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As we look at his face today, smooth and beautiful, I pray that we will be reminded that God is the one who cleanses, forgives and restores; Naaman of old and Jackson today.
There is one more thing I want to tell you. It has to do with the next verses in chapter 5 of II Kings, the verses that were not included in today’s reading. We learn that Naaman came back from the Jordan River and, with all his men listening, said to Elisha, “Now I know that there is no god but the God of Israel.” My hope and prayer for young Jackson is this: that someday he will stand before all of us and declare, “Now I know that I am a baptized child of God.”