July 7, 2013
7th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 5:1-14
Namaan Monologue – Adapted from Midrash Preaching Group
He wanted me to take bath!
Me - Naaman - commander of the army of the King of Aram. A bath! And a bath in the Jordan River no less! That yucky, filthy, muddy, not fit for human swimming River Jordan. That was my Prescription for healing from a nasty skin disease.
I was in agony and disfigured, the leader of a vast army, and yet, the great prophet Elisha didn't even have the decency to see me himself. He sent a servant to tell me to take a bath. I was madder than a rabid fox. If it wasn't for my brave servants, who had the nerve to face me when I was consumed by rage and distracted by disease, then I wouldn't be able to stand before you today - healed and whole.
Let me tell you how it happened.
I don't remember when it began and I don't know how I got it, but a skin disease, some leprosy, had taken over my body. At first I cope like any soldier. I buck up and keep working. But soon the pain starts to get relentless. And then my servants and soldiers start to look at me differently. They still follow orders alright, but I can tell they are concerned about being around me; probably afraid of getting it too.
One night, when I have just about run out of patience, when the disease is consuming my soul as well as my skin, the little servant girl speaks up. (I had captured her on one of our raids and gave her to my wife as a gift.) She isn't very old, but she is wise. She said: "If only my lord (meaning me) were with the Prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."
Now you'd think that a man of my stature would never listen to a child, especially a girl-child and a servant at that – but let’s face it – I was desperate. So I go to my King - the King of Aram - and tell him of this healer prophet and ask for his help in securing a cure. My King offers to write a letter of introduction to the King of Israel, so I might travel to the prophet of his land and be healed. With hope in my heart I head off, letter in hand, and a chariot full of money to express my deep gratitude.
We get to the King of Israel's palace and encounter our first little snag. Seems my King forgot to mention in his letter that the prophet Elisha was to do the healing. The King of Israel thinks he is being asked to heal me by himself. He believes it is some kind of trick. He is fearful that if he doesn't heal me (something that he doesn't believe he has the power to do) then my King will attack the people of Israel. Such is the distrust between nations at this time.
Pacing in the inner room, out of my sight and hearing, the King of Israel is so upset that he rips his clothes, and says: "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."
I mean no harm to him, but he doesn't believe that.
Somehow word of the King’s distress travels to the Prophet Elisha. The Prophet sends word back that I am to be sent to him for healing.We load up the horses and chariots again and head over to Elisha's house.
Now I have brought my finest soldiers, best chariots and horses, and lots of money. I am, after all, a commander. I arrive in style (even if I do say so for myself) and I expect to be received accordingly (if you know what I mean). A little fanfare, perhaps some food and something to entertain my entourage while I am being treated, would have been nice. But no. None of that is waiting. In fact, I don't even get to see the Prophet. He doesn't even bother to step out of his house, and I am not even invited in. One of his servants comes out and says to me, in front of all my men, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean."
"Go" - he says. Not "Come in" have a drink and something to eat. Rest a bit and the Prophet will see you shortly. No he says "Go, and take a bath." Not even my wife gets to tell me when to take a bath. (My mother, maybe, but no one else.) And a bath in the Jordan River no less - that's just insane. Do you know what's in that river?Cattle drink there; people wash their clothes in it. The rain washes through town and you can guess what ends up in the river.
The Jordan River, well, it's just disgusting. I could have stayed home and taken a dunk in the rivers of Damascus if that was all it was going to take. And to not even come out to greet me, to wave his hands over me or say some prayer, it's just, well, isn't right. I am enraged, incensed, beside myself and ready to just go home.
After this second snag I stomp back to my chariot, discouraged and exhausted. A couple of my servants, ones who have been with me a long time and know me well, summon up the courage to say something. Brave lot those men. I wouldn't have talked to me in that moment. But I guess they knew me better than I know myself.
They say to me, "if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you have not done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean?'"
Like I said, brave bunch those boys. It was one of those moments when you feel the air suck out of you. Humility hits like a two-by-four across the chest and knocks the wind right out of you. What could I say? What possible words of rebuttal could I utter? There were none.
I motion to the lead chariot; we turn and head for the Jordan. Without further argument from me I get down from my chariot, walk to the edge of the river and wade straight into the waters. No fanfares, no red carpets, no magic words, just me and the river. I can't look at it, but I can feel it. I feel it hit my sores and my pain. I feel it smooth over my body like the best save you could ever imagine. I come up out of the water and I look the same, but somehow I feel different. The healing has begun.
We set up camp beside the river and for the next six days I do the same thing - go into the water alone, immerse myself in the Jordan and let its healing waters begin to restore my soul and my body. By the seventh day my skin is made whole and healed.
But more importantly my soul is healing too. Oh I am still an army commander, but I am more compassionate and aware of those who serve me. I now worship only one God, the God of Abraham. And although I know that the skin disease that weighed me down might someday return, I also know that God has made me whole, has healed me in ways that a cure could never. For that kind of healing, faith is the only cure.
I stand before you today as witness to what faith, born of humility, can do. And now you know that God has sent not just a prophet, but His own son to live and dwell among you. And this son - Jesus of Nazareth has also told you to go. The bath required among you is the waters of Baptism, and as you live into the vows made at your Baptism you will discover the humility, persistence, and patience that I discovered as I allowed the waters of the Jordon wash over my pain filled body and embittered soul.
He started with calling twelve to follow him, then expanded to seventy, and to them and I believe to you, he says: "The harvest is plentiful, but labourers are few; ...go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves."
About those wolves - well, the world hasn't changed all that much since I was riding around in chariots. There is still a lot of hate, anger, racism, violence, war, haves and have-nots, slavery in many forms, poverty and unemployment, sickness and death, and an environmental crisis which has put our whole planet at risk. Indeed, there is much need for God’s healing to wash over us, and in us, and through us. Healing comes slowly, but it needs to come.
But remember, as you go about your journeying as disciples, one trip to the river wasn't enough for me. And it won't be enough for you or the others you meet along the way. Each time you feel your humility being overpowered by your ego, I encourage you to immerse yourself into this sacred space and receive the healing that only God through Jesus can bring. And do so again and again, each time you feel your compassion slipping, or your anger rising; each time you feel as though you’re right and everyone else is wrong. You may not have the Jordan River around here. But you have this place and others like it to slip into and seek wholeness and healing. When you come to this sacred place allow it to gift you with healing and when you are here listen for God calling to you – calling you into healing and wholeness. And you have wonderful natural places too, like the lakes and streams and rivers to cool the heat of your anger and calm the restlessness of your souls.
And then, once you've gone in six or seven times, and you've regained some of your sense of the person God created you to be – some renewed sense of humility, compassion, and direction go back out into the world, but keep it simple. As Jesus says, "Travel light". Don't expect rewards or gifts. And be prepared for people like me - stubborn, self-righteous and a bit arrogant. We will be your hardest to save, but then we'll be your greatest and most loyal friend.
May the God who sent me to that mucky river so long ago, gift you with a place of healing and wholeness that leads to a life of love, compassion and humility.
And by the way, don't be afraid to go under once in a while. The coming up again makes it all worthwhile. May be it be so. Amen.