Rev. Katherine Todd
2 Kings 5:1-14
2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “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! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “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 he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
This story of Naaman’s healing is a wonder. But reading it this time, I am struck by the servants.
We do not know their names. We never will, I imagine. And yet, they are the heroes of this story, truly.
We learn that it was a girl from Israel who’d been taken captive by the Arameans who told Naaman’s wife about the prophet in Israel who could cure Naaman’s leprosy. This girl who had every reason in the world to wish evil and harm on her captors instead wished them well and made them aware of a prophet in Israel who could cure him.
So this whole miraculous healing story owes its beginning to a young girl, unnamed, captured and made a servant in a foreign land. See, even before Christ, God was making the Israelite people a blessing to their neighbors. They were in fact blessed in order to be a blessing – that all the nations might come to the light of their dawn and be blessed in them. Even before Christ and that tearing down of the dividing walls between nations and people – even then the gifts of God were spreading by word of mouth and deeds of kindness and compassion, like that of this young girl.
So Naaman approaches his King with the news that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him, and the King sends a letter ahead of Naaman to the King of Israel along with many presents and gifts, asking that Naaman may be healed. The King of Israel felt damned by such a request – which he had no earthly power to grant, as he could not heal Naaman – but Elisha heard of the King’s distress and sent word that he would heal Naaman.
Now when Naaman comes to see Elisha, Elisha doesn’t even give him the honor of meeting Naaman. He simply sends out a messenger to tell Naaman what he should do in order to be made well.
And this discourtesy offends Naaman’s pride. He was a powerful and mighty commander of the Aramean army, and this prophet wouldn’t even give him a moment of his time to see him face to face. Naaman was furious. How rude!
On top of the offense of not meeting him was the humiliating instruction to bathe in this foreign river. Naaman was very powerful and proud. He believed the rivers of his homeland were far superior to this Israeli river. So adding insult to injury was this instruction to bathe in this inferior river.
But again it is the servants, these unnamed servants who are the heroes of this story. We are told they follow after Naaman and encourage him. They reason, “If the prophet had told you to do something hard, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not do this, which is so easy?”
These servants prevail upon Naaman, and he washes in the Jordan, just as Elisha instructs, and it says that his skin is made whole, just like that of a young boy. Can you imagine?! All these years, despite having everything – power, authority, reputation and ability, the trust of his King – still Naaman was powerless over the one thing that arguably mattered most: his health. And his disease would have isolated him from many, including his own family and wife and kin, whom he could never touch. Can you imagine?
God has just restored to Naaman that quality of life that is everything.
Did Naaman deserve it? I’d say probably not. Probably not at all. And yet our God blesses him, heals and restores him.
And insodoing, God’s power and love are made known far and wide, to people and nations around the world, from generation to generation.
In our world there are many, many people who we do not see. They are the invisible ones. They are the servants. They dump our trash. They clean our buildings. They grow our food and prepare it. They cut our grass. They clean our bathrooms.
They watch and care for our children. They deliver our packages. They build our houses, roads, and infrastructure. They drive the trucks that deliver the goods we need to stores nearby. They prepare hot food to sustain us on the street, when we’re out and too busy to cook.
We are surrounded by the servants, the invisibles, the ones we take for granted and seldom notice or truly see.
These are heroes among us, who do the most necessary and life-sustaining work to support life. We rely on them. We need them. And they change the course of history, unnamed.
May we not be as Naaman, proud and arrogant, puffed up in our own self-worth and value as measured by the powers of this world, our degrees, our certifications, our accomplishments… Our God does not see as we see. Our God does not measure as we measure. Our God shows no partiality but sees the indispensability of those we are tempted to undervalue, to dismiss, to overlook.
As servants of the Lord, we may be unnamed. We may be unseen. We may be undervalued and sometimes dismissed. But we are precious and valuable in the eyes of the Lord, who loves us and calls us by name.
The work we do in love and faith is bigger than us. It is bigger than our vision or even our time. As servants of our Lord, we join with God in doing a work that the Kingdom of God may come, among us, here and now, bringing life and health and hope and light to all who cry out and sit in the shadow of death.
May we see, more and more, as God sees.
May we affirm the value of each person, for whom Christ suffered, died, and rose again!
May we lay down our judgements and valuations of ourselves and one another.
Forgive us, Lord.
Would you give us eyes to see one another as you do?
And may we truly celebrate and cherish the servants in our midst,
through whose life, and blood, and sweat
we live and love
and have our being.