come quickly to me;
give ear to my voice
when I call to you.
2 Kings 4:18-5:27
The son of the Shunammite widow falls ill and dies. She goes to Elisha demanding that he go with her to her home. Coming into her house, he lays hands on the dead boy and prays. The son awakes.
When he gets back to Gilgal, Elisha ensures the the hungry no longer have to eat contaminated food and sees that hungry people are fed.
Note the steps:
A single person is compassionate enough to give up some of his resources.
He doesn't give a whole lot, only twenty loaves of bread and some grain.
He gives them first to Elisha's servant who doesn't think they are sufficient for the task.
He quotes what God wants.
A hundred people are fed, and they have leftovers.
Next, Elisha is called to help an army commander of Aram (Syria). Consider the contrasts:
Aram (Syria), strong/Israel, weak; Naaman, army commander/nameless captive servant girl; Naaman's victory in war/Naaman's inability to heal himself; foreigner who knows something/important citizen who needs to know something.
Naaman, in hopes that his servant knows what she is talking about, goes to his king for permission to make the trip to Israel. The king, being a king, assumes that all power in Israel resides in the king of Israel. Being a king, he thinks he knows what kings want; so, he sends a letter and a lot of expensive gifts.
Naaman takes the letter and the gifts directly to the king of Israel. The king is nonplussed. And distrustful and fearful.
Why does the king of Israel react in this way?
Elisha, on the other hand, hears, understands, and acts.
Kings need a prophet.
Naaman, as powerful and successful as he had been, needed help. He was willing to listen to a captive girl, a servant. But, he and his king, thought that the person she had recommended, if he was as good as she said, must be working for the king of his country.
Who wouldn't think that? Where do we turn for help?
The prophet Elisha doesn't even bother to come out of his house to meet his powerful guest. Rather, he sends an emissary. "Go wash in the Jordan, and your flesh will be clean." Naaman reacts as if he has been told to go jump in the lake. He stalks off.
Why was he willing to listen to his servant but is insulted when Elisha sends a servant to convey instructions?
Is there any message in this passage that leads us to examine our own chauvinism?
One of my favorite authors is Walter Breuggemann. I not only buy his books; I also read them. Here's a portion of what he had to say about Naaman's acceptance of Elisha's odd medical prescription (Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B):
The story ends in an act of submissive obedience of the commander to the plan of the prophet (v. 14). The commander acts "according to the word of the man of God" and engages in ritual washing, which is beneath his station. The result is the one he had hoped for but doubted possible! He is made whole! He is made clean! He is made ritually acceptable....The narrative stands as odd testimony that power for life is indeed offered and available. That power for life is not given in expected or even socially approved forms. It comes in primitive ways that live close to the gifts of the earth.Thus all the pretense of the Syrian leader with his entourage, his goods brought for gifts (for bribery or negotiation), turn out to be irrelevant.Healing is an offer that is free, but only through the word and acts of this uncredentialed prophet.
Questions that arise:
Is there a modern-day analogy for "ritual washing"?
Does the place of the water matter, or would the healing have been just as effective if Elisha had sent him to some other river? That is, think about who really does the healing.
Do you agree with Bruggemann on the power of life coming from "primitive ways that live close to the gifts of the earth"?
Why did servants know what to do and a king did not?
What does it mean that two different servants were willing to give Naaman advice?
What does it mean that he was willing to follow their advice?
The council of Jerusalem wrestles with the question of whether someone could be a Christian unless he was first a Jew. The Pharisees said non-Jews were not welcomed. After much debate and testimony by Barnabas and Paul, they agreed to accept non-Jews.
The wicked accept a concealed bribe
to pervert the ways of justice.
Prayer for Today: O Lord, open us to your voice today. Give us the wisdom and the courage to follow your directions for us. Give us the wisdom and the courage to discern when you would have us follow a path that we aren't used to. Amen.