II Kings 5:1-14
February 12, 2012
One of the things that makes the Bible so fascinating to me is that it is filled with irony, with dynamic tensions, where seemingly opposing forces pull at you. These forces seem to be in conflict until you probe deeper.
“Whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25, NIV) might be one good example.
“Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30, NIV) might be another good one.
Both of these statements seem to contradict each other. Yet, they express a truth that can’t be measured and quantified. This truth must be lived and experienced.
General Naaman had to experience this truth. He had to learn it the hard way. He had to find out the hard way that the path to healing and wholeness cannot be bought. This path cannot be conquered. It cannot be mastered through our own efforts. This path can be traveled only when we are ready to let go.
What do we have to let go? General Naaman had to let go of many things.
First, General Naaman had to let go of his own wisdom. The General was the savy, war-tested veteran. He had traveled, he had conquered. Yet none of his acquired wisdom and savvy was enough to enable him to overcome the brokenness of his body. He had to reach the point that he was able to hear and accept the truth from a young girl. A girl from a foreign land, a girl that his raiding armies had snatched away from her home and family. A girl that served the General’s wife (2 Kings 5:2-3). The story of Naaman almost seems to foreshadow the words of Jesus when he said that “15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:15, NIV). Have you had the experience of sitting at a computer, absolutely frustrated at your inability to follow the “user friendly” instructions that you were given, but your child sits down and without batting an eye starts typing away? Naaman had to let go of his own wisdom and accept the wisdom of a child in order to find his way to wholeness.
Second, General Naaman had to let go of the notion that earthly power and influence could buy his way back to wholeness. Once Naaman had decided to follow the wisdom of the young foreign girl, how did he go about it? He tried his connections, his own networking. He spoke to his king. His king sent a message to the foreign king. The foreign king became paralyzed with fear that the whole thing was a set-up. When we are seeking wholeness, wholeness is not interested in whether we have friends in high places or military strength or riches or a resume that boasts of great achievements. General Naaman had to learn the truth that centuries later would be repeated by a Prophet from Nazareth who said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:11, NIV).
Third, General Namaan had to let go of the notion that he could find wholeness on his own terms. The General had finally tracked down the prophet of whom the servant girl spoke. I can visualize him finally pulling up in his chariot in front of the prophet’s dwelling, sitting there in his military garb, adjusting the medals of honor on his chest, fidgeting to make sure that he had all the gifts ready at hand that he was going to bestow upon the prophet in order to buy his way into wholeness. The longer he waits, the more impatient he becomes. And then, when his aid-de-camp returns to the chariot with the prophet’s instructions, Naaman is furious. First, this is no way to treat someone as important as himself. Who does this prophet think he is anyway. Didn’t his mother teach him to show proper respect. The least he could have done was to show his face and wave his hands over the General’s infliction. He should have said a few prayers, maybe chant a little bit. Then, the final insult—his instruction to take seven baths in the dirty waters of the Jordan River?! There are more desirable rivers back home. He had a skin disorder, after all. What if he caught an infection from the microbes and parasites that were certain to be present in those muddy waters?
What a contrast we find between General Naaman and another military commander a centurion in the Roman Army, who came to Jesus to find healing for his servant. Jesus turned immediately to go to the centurion’s home but the centurion stopped Him. “Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof… But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel" (Luke 7:6-9, NIV). Naaman had to let go of his expectations that wholeness should come to him on his own terms.
I see something else taking place in this story. Through his struggle to find wholeness, Naaman meets God. Naaman thought that he needed physical healing, but he needed much more. He needed God, and he didn’t even realize it; but God was there, seeking Naaman out before Naaman even knew it. We call that grace—a specific type of grace. Prevenient grace, the grace through which God seeks us out and calls us to find Him. God had been working in Naaman’s life all along. The first verse of the story tells us that through Naaman, “the Lord had granted victory to Aram” (2 Kings 5:1). Once he was healed, Naaman was able to see that it wasn’t really the Jordan River that healed him; it was the God of Israel, the creator of heaven and earth, the God who could not be seen and whose name could not be uttered, it was the Lord who healed him. And from that day on, Naaman worshiped the Lord God.
Some days, I feel so much like Naaman, as though I deserve God’s favored treatment. I have worked hard. I have tried to do the right things. I left a career, went back to school. Yet, from time to time, God sees fit to remind me that all of my efforts mean nothing. It is only when I have given up my own illusions of self-importance, of my own wisdom, of my own righteousness that I can find God. It is only when I finally let go and come to God empty handed that I finally am ready to receive the gift of wholeness that God offers to me.
God offers that same gift of wholeness to us all this morning. We come here to the Table of the Lord, to receive the gifts of bread and wine, but we come seeking much more. We are seeking the Real Presence of the Living Christ. If we come clutching on to our own worthiness, we will walk away empty handed. If, however, we let go of who we are and come to the Table empty handed, God offers to us the gift of life, of life eternal.
The Apostle Paul put it this way. After recounting all the reasons he had to be proud, he said, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them [my achievements] rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own … but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:7-9, NIV).
So I invite you to come to the Table this morning, but I urge you to let go and come empty handed. The irony is that by coming empty handed, you are ready to receive the wholeness that is the gift of God.
May it be so!
Copyright © 2012 by Thomas E. Frost. All rights reserved.
 Preached at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia.