2 Kings 5:1-14
“So he went and immersed himself seven times” in the Pearl river. Wouldn’t the Mississippi river have been better? More healing? I mean, the Pearl River is so “ordinary,” and it is right in our back yard…. Certainly a person of such importance, and power – I am a warrior, you know, a successful commander – I win wars! I must need a more exotic, more expensive, more difficult healing. The Jordan river, really?
And as is so often the case, the simple solution worked. The lamp wasn’t working not because it was defective in some annoying, complicated way, but because the light bulb had burned out. The computer was not working not because of some virus had wiped out even the motherboard … but because the computer was not plugged in. I hear my Dad: “First, check for power.” Plug it in!
There is more to the story of Naamen than the fact that there was a simple solution for his itchy skin. (Do you itch just hearing this story? I do! Naaman did not have what we would call leprosy, but some itchy skin condition – poison ivy, excema – it makes me scratch just thinking about it.) Naamen went to see Elisha, a prophet so that Elisha might heal him. Naamen showed up with horses and chariots, in all the splendor of a warrior. Elisha wouldn’t even see him, sent a messenger out with the message to go wash in the Pearl/Jordan. How disgusted Naaman was! And he left in a rage.
And then something happened …
Naaman’s servants convinced him to be cleansed in the way that Elisha told him. It was easy. Too easy, in fact; Naaman wanted splendor, something showy and difficult, something to match his spectacular entrance at Elisha’s house. Elisha turned Naamen’s expectations upside down. We remember that a prophet only asks us to do those things that we can do; we are not asked to do the impossible in our lives. We are healed, restored, within the bounds of our human capabilities.
Naaman washes seven times and is healed. It was that easy. Why is easy so difficult?
I suspect that you and I want a God who shows up on our terms – when we want God, in the way that we want God. We want the miracle to be something spectacular, Hollywood – good, with lights and drama; I want glitz and sequins and ball gowns; you may want explosions and a car chase – you know, the movie stuff of Cinderella and Die Hard, Chicago and James Bond. We go to God like we go to the movies: we are entertained, on occasion we are dazzled, and we walk away. Look what God has done!
Or we expect that we will be given something that we cannot do, like scale a building or blow up a car, turn a pumpkin into a carriage. See, God? I can’t do that … and we give ourselves an excuse to walk away, unchanged and unhealed. We do not let the presence of our God and our Healer change our life one bit.
How sad. That we can be healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and we choose not to be healed at all. Or we separate our physical healing to something apart from God. We give ourselves excuses not to see God in our lives, or not to let God in at all.
What about today’s leper in the gospel of Mark? This short little story is fraught with difficulties in interpretation, from what words are original, to what those words mean, and to whom those words are said. When we get past all of that (ask me about it sometime; I’ll be glad to share), we are left with the question of so what? Why do we read about this particular leper?
This leper practically dares Jesus to heal him: “If you choose to heal me.” This statement is said with the sense that Jesus does want to heal the man, sort of a “you know you want to heal me” plea. Jesus replies, “I do choose.” I do want to heal you. But go to the priest, the one in this society that can declare that you have leprosy and the only one who can declare that you are healed from it. Work with what we have, within the rules of this society, because it is dangerous for me if you do not do this. Remember: John the Baptist has been killed. Anyone who draws attention to himself draws attention and maybe power away from Caesar and is considered to be a dangerous person. And Jesus’ first healings took place on the Sabbath, so he’s already in trouble. “Tell no one,” Jesus says.
The healed leper disobeys Jesus and proclaims his healing “freely.” The leper separates the gospel, the Good News of Jesus, from the healing that he did. And when Jesus work is separated from Jesus crucified and risen, the Good News goes away. Jesus becomes “just another” prophet, healer, … magician. Jesus is a healer … and our Lord. Jesus is a prophet … and our King. Jesus is our savior, and we cannot separate his work from his message.
It isn’t that Jesus never wants us to tell about the healing; Jesus wanted the people to keep it a secret until his crucifixion and resurrection – until, as we might say, “the rest of the story” had taken place.
We, too, are like Namaan. We want healing to take place on our terms. We want our prophets to be at our beck and call, and to recognize our importance, our standing in the community, our station in society. THE prophet Jesus does not care about any of that. Jesus cares about our relationship with Him. Jesus wants us to show up, in splendor if we must, but most especially when we are unhealed, unclean, when we have nothing left but to fall at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus will heal us in and from whatever condition we find ourselves. God looks favorably upon God’s servants. Jesus desperately wants to make us whole, and he will give us only those things that we can do in order to heal us. We have a part in our healing. We have to show up, we have to listen, and we have to be obedient to God’s instruction. Once we have been in the presence of Jesus, we are supposed to tell the world about Him because His truth has already come to pass. We know the Messianic secret of Mark. We know the secret of Christ risen, and when we take that upon ourselves, we will be whole.
We need only to go down to the Pearl.