It is an interesting story, this one concerning Naaman. Naaman was, apparently, a mighty warrior of the Aramean army. It would appear he had no weaknesses except one, he suffered from leprosy.
It was a humble Israelite servant girl, who isn’t even given a name, the handmaid of Naaman’s wife, who had been captured by Naaman on one of his raids upon Israel, tells her mistress that there is a prophet in Samaria who could heal her husband of his leprosy.
So Naaman’s wife, apparently passes the message onto Naaman who promptly goes to his king, who then sends him, not to the prophet, but to the king of Israel. Naaman is given a letter to take with him to the king and he takes with him 10 talents of silver, 6 thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments – presumably as gifts.
When Naaman arrives before the king of Israel he gives him the letter from his king, which reads, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” The king of Israel’s response is probably not what Naaman was expecting. The king of Israel interprets the letter of the king of Aram as negative, “he is trying to pick a quarrel with me,” and he tears his clothes.
The prophet Elisha hears of what has taken place and he sends to the king of Israel to ask why he is so offended, “Why have you torn your clothes?” Elisha requests the king to send Naaman to him, so that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.
So Naaman travels to Elisha’s house in all his pomp and status. But Elisha does not even go to meet him or see him. He sends a messenger down to tell him to “go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored and you shall be clean.”
Naaman wanted some kind of magic, or an incantation, or a calling down of God. So he was angry. He had come all this way, with his gifts, I presume, he hadn’t even seen the prophet, and all he got was a message to go jump in a scummy little river, not just once, but seven times. The rivers at home were better than this little polluted creek.
It was Naaman’s servants who approached him. “If you had been told to do something difficult you would have done it. Why won’t you do what is simple, go and wash and be clean.” So he did and he was restored to health.
It is unfortunate that the reading today does not include the outcome of these events. For in his cured state, Naaman returns to Elisha and confesses, even in a limited understanding, that “there is no God in all the earth except in Israel”. And on Elisha’s refusal to accept his gifts, he asks for two mule-loads of earth, so he can worship the God of Israel back home in Aram.
The story of Naaman is, I think, a story of proud hearts getting in the way of what God wants. The proud heart of Naaman stands in contrast to the humble heart of the captive handmaid of his wife. This nameless servant does not let any resentment of her captivity get in the way of a foreigner receiving healing. She believes it can be done and she recommends the course of action.
We have, I think, much to learn from the servant girl in this story. All too often we are too proud, think too little of ourselves, are too full of resentment regarding choices made or other people, that we miss out on how God can use us and how we can be of service to God.
Naaman’s proud heart gets in the way of him being able to receive. Firstly, he expects something big to happen. We, too, can be proud in this way; we look for amazing, big miracles, and miss the miraculous in the ordinary. And if something big did happen, we would probably poo-poo it, anyway. Secondly, his pride is revealed in the gifts he takes with him, to pay for the services he receives. But this gift of healing comes not out of what somebody else does for him, but his willingness to be humble and obedient.
And the king of Israel stands as proud, in this story. Albeit, his enemy, comes to him with a request for assistance, and his pride takes it as some form of affront. His pride does not accept that he could be of service to God, offended at the idea that he is expected to have the power of God in him.
Even Elisha smacks of pride. He calls for Naaman to come to him, not so that he might know the power of God, but for his own self-glorification; that Naaman may see that there is prophet in Israel. And when Naaman does come, Elisha does not even favour him with his presence, but sends a servant to speak with him.
Both pride and false humility are obstacles for work of God. The hero of the story is, I think, the captive Israelite slave, who, was not too proud to speak up, to act, despite her lowly position, and believed that even she could be of service to God. We ought to be encouraged by this story to learn that we, even we, are ministers of God. I wonder if our pride or our false humility might be getting in the way.