This distinction between being cured and being healed, this distinction between insider and outsider, belonging and not belonging, is carried some steps forward in the Old Testament lesson for today.
General Naaman has arrived in life. He has access to great wealth and power. He has connections at the highest level of society. He belongs to the Club, if you know what I mean.
Indeed, Naaman could begin to believe that wealth and power and belonging were the greatest forces in the world. If you want to get things done, that’s what you need: wealth and power and connections, membership in the Club. But, like most people with or without wealth, power or belonging, Naaman has a problem, something that keeps him human. He has leprosy.
Contrast Naaman with another character in this story. A little young girl—that’s what the Hebrew literally calls her—a little young girl in Naaman’s household, taken on a raid.
So here’s what happened to you if you were taken in a slave raid. You would live in an Israelite village. Very rarely meet a stranger. Everyone around you, you have known since birth. You would know your family, your relatives, your mother’s friend nearby who has a little boy. They have talked in vague terms of arranging a marriage contract between you and him someday. But that day is a long way away from this one.
You would see sheep and goats regularly, mostly owned by the wealthy people who live up the street, who have two rooms in their houses: one for animals and one for people. Can you believe that? Some of them might even have had a cow or a couple of donkeys.
You would not have seen a pig. Pigs were unclean in ancient Israel. And you would not often have seen a horse. A horse was a weapon of war. A chariot was the equipment of war.
It’s like nowadays, you might see cars, and occasionally a tractor or a pickup truck for use on the farm. But you won’t usually see a tank, or a military helicopter setting down.
And yet, that’s exactly what you see. The raid would strike fast. There would be someone in a chariot, terrifying because it was so easy for the driver to cut down anyone who tried to climb over the railings. And someone in the back, shooting arrows wherever he wanted.
You would probably have seen people you had known all your life killed in front of you. Maybe even members of your own family. You are scooped up into a chariot or on a horse, carried away from the only house, the only street, the only people you have ever known.
And now after all that chaos and trauma, you have to serve Naaman’s wife. Maybe you were a gift to her, like flowers or a pair of earrings. Maybe you were purchased by her. Now, you have to wash her clothes, run and fetch her makeup. Now, how are you going to feel?
If you are a little young girl and you feel like wealth and power and belonging are the greatest powers in the world, you might not be very interested in Naaman’s healing.
Naaman has taken your power, your wealth, your belonging. Maybe you have your health, but he does not. Are you going to want him to get better soon? Are you going to suggest a means of healing? I don’t think I would. I think I would keep my mouth shut, and enjoy watching him suffer.
This little young girl, however, does not see wealth and power and belonging or even health as the greatest powers of the universe. She is one of the people of Israel, one of those who struggle with God. (That’s what the word “Israel” means.) She has heard the stories about how God brought the people of Israel out of slavery, drowned Pharaoh’s chariots, Pharaoh’s tanks and helicopters in the Red Sea. She has heard about how Solomon did not ask for wealth or power, but rather wisdom to serve God’s people, and in so doing received wealth and power beyond imagining. Because that is what wealth and power and belonging and health are for: to serve God and the people.
She knows there is something in this world that is deeper than wealth and power and belonging and health, she knows there is a wisdom in this world more wonderfully, beautifully terrifying than the fear of poverty, fear of weakness, fear of not belonging, fear of illness.
So she sends him to that wisdom. She sends him to that God: “If only my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria.”
Naaman will try anything, so he abides by the rules of the Club. He goes straight to the top, the king of Aram. King of Aram sends a letter to the King of Israel, another member of the club, along with 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold, plus several very nice Armani suits.
Naaman rides up to the white house in Israel with his stretch limousine with the bullet proof tires and the helicopters above. King of Israel reads the letter. He can’t cure leprosy. He tears his clothes because he thinks the king of Aram is pulling another rule of the Club, finding an excuse to go to war.
Elisha hears about it. Sends a message, says “Calm down. Send Naaman to me.”
So Naaman pulls up to Elisha’s house with his stretch limousine, his helicopters, 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold, in his Armani suit.
Does Elisha come out to meet him? No. If the president pulled up you your house in limousine and helicopters and guys in dark glasses looking this way and that way on the roof, would you go out to meet?
Elisha doesn’t come out. He sends a messenger. He sends a text. Here’s Naaman in the limo, gets a text. “Wash in the river Jordon seven times and you will be clean.”
Naaman is furious. This is not the rules of the Club. First of all, you have to take the gift, because there’s no free lunch in the Club. There’s no such thing as grace. Second, you make a big deal out of important people. Where is my TV show background music? Where’s my glitter and glamour? Where is Elisha in his sequined jacket, chanting some great incantation over the leprosy, waving his hand, maybe sending me to do some great tasks like they did Hercules. Go destroy that great monster. Go find the Golden Fleece.
All he wants me to do is wash in the river Jordon? That muddy ditch? You’ve got to be kidding.
But his servants come to him. The ones without wealth and power. They say, “Give it a try.”
Got to listen to the servants. God to listen to the little people.
Naaman washes. He is cured. But watch what happens. His skin is like the skin of a young boy. The one who enslaved the young girl is now made like a young boy. He says “There is no God but the God of Israel.”
You see what has happened. This little yong girl has destroyed Naaman’s whole world, abolished his Club of wealth and power and belonging and even good health, and turned him back around toward God’s life.
Don’t you think she knew what she was doing?
I am wondering whether we might know as well, when we point people toward the cross, toward God’s life.
Most of us are beset with concerns about our own wealth or poverty, power or vulnerability, belonging or rejection, health or illness. The slave girl set her master free from all those things, and introduced him to the God of freedom and wisdom and life. Who sets us free? Who is the little young girl to us?
And to whom does God call us? In relationship with whom are we to be the servants, the slave girl, the hands of God, to free them and turn them toward God’s life?