Message from Our Pastor
Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's homily for October 13. Relevant text: 2 Kings 5: 1-15.
Have you ever been told to get off your high horse or found yourself needing to eat a piece of humble pie? Yes, then you know a little bit what it is like to be Naaman.
You see, Naaman doesn’t know what it what it means to be humble, let alone humiliated. Naaman is a proud arrogant military leader. Does he have reason to be proud? Of course. He is a mighty and successful warrior. And because he is a mighty and successful warrior he is used to living in the center of society – high and upright on his horse, or swift and fierce behind it in his chariot, respected and acknowledged by all.
It is quite interesting then that it is a young girl – a prisoner of war we would call her – a servant – that offers Naaman hope. This young nameless girl who lives on the edge of society and is acknowledged by no one could have served in bitterness and anger and remained silent, but instead, she speaks up and offers hope for the one gift no one else can give to the very man who is responsible for her enslavement.
Naaman wastes no time heading off to his would-be healer. Certain that he will be seen and cured, Naaman rides into Israel with his horses and chariots, servants, entourage and all – right up to Elisha’s front door welcome mat. Given the reaction he has to the messenger, Naaman has spent the trip imagining how his healing would take place. It would certainly be a grand event, an event that would be worthy of a man of his status. In his mind he saw a lot of people, great pageantry, trumpets and the chanting of his name.
What Naaman expected was a perfectly done steak, but what he received, in his mind, was a hotdog. “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean,” says a messenger.
“Say what? I came all this way, put on my dress armor, drove my best horses only to be told by some minion to dunk myself in the dirtiest river in the whole country, and not just once, but seven times? Go fly a kite”, said Naaman, or something to that affect.
To fill this prescription wouldn’t just humble Naaman, it would humiliate him. Can you imagine stripping down in front of all your underlings and wading into a pretty muddy river and washing yourself? How do you do that once in a dirty river, let alone seven times. No, if you swallow this pill you will be known as Naaman the river rat for the rest of your life. “Nope, not happening, not now, not ever. I’ll live with the leprosy.”
Fortunately, for Naaman’s sake, he had servants who were not only wise, wiser than he perhaps, and also tactful. “But sir, if the prophet had said you had to catch a cobra without getting bitten, or wrestle a lion and win, or cross the desert without food, would you not have done these things, even though you would be at risk of losing your life?
“Of course you would. You are a great and brave warrior and you would want to prove this. So why not do this simple task which is certain and will not risk your life.”
Better to eat humble pie and live than to be a self-righteous fool and die.
Naaman was indeed self-righteous, but he was, in the end, not a fool. He went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, as Elisha prescribed; and his flesh was restored “like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” Then he returned to Elisha, the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
This experience not only cleansed Naaman’s skin, but also his heart. When Naaman first arrives at Elisha’s house the text says that the party halts at its entrance. You halt with a company of soldiers and you halt with horses. Naaman arrived on his high horse. But he leaves having come down to stand before Elisha to offer his thanks by acknowledging the one true God of Israel.
There are, in my opinion anyway, a lot of Naamans running around these days – people who believe that they are entitled to their status, their possessions, their privileges and whatever else they can arrange to receive, take, or come by. The theory or belief behind such behavior is often: “God helps those that help themselves.”
How many times have you heard this phrase? Have you used it yourself?
But this isn’t how scripture reads. That oft-used phrase is not in the Bible, nor is it played out in Bible stories. It is just the opposite, God helps those who cannot help themselves.
Naaman wanted a daring task to accomplish and gain his healing. But by having to get down from his horse and bathe in a dirty river, he had to humble himself and admit that all his fame and fortune made him no better a person than any one else.
That’s the lesson, When it comes down to it, none of us are any more, or less, of a person than another. It’s not about money, status, health, gender, beliefs or any other category used to divide us.
The river, in which we were all humbly washed, was the living waters of the font at our baptism. But most of us don’t remember that. Still we see and experience this truth every week, when we gather at the table of the Lord. Everyone is welcome. Everyone who desires receives the elements. Everyone comes as they are, not high and mighty on a horse, but standing or kneeling before God, with hands outstretched waiting for God’s grace. And not once, not seven times, but every time it is given and given freely. So come, eat, be filled and be made clean. Amen.