A Sermon for Matins, 8 July 2007
You can listen to my sermon by downloading it here. (9MB)
Text: 2 Kings 5: 1-14
I’d like to speak to you today about two things that often get in my way and are troubling to me – misunderstanding and pride. One typical example goes something like this: one morning at work my laptop computer wouldn’t connect to the network. This meant I couldn’t print the worksheets I had made for the day, I couldn’t register my classes, I couldn’t access the internet or a hundred other small functions that are necessary at work.
I was desperate; I tried everything I could think of, from turning the computer off and back on again, to finally hitting buttons at random, hoping they did something. This was especially galling to me, as I like to pride myself on the fact that I know a fair bit about computers. Other people in my department often come to me with their IT mishaps, and a few years ago, I was given ‘responsibility for ICT’ in my department, something I feel I can be quite proud of. So, I resorted to calling one of the technicians who runs the network because quite obviously, something had gone terribly wrong. He asked about all the things that I had already done (except the random key-hitting – I kept that to myself), and just as I was starting to panic about being without my laptop for weeks as it was obviously desperately broken and had to be sent away, he said casually, ‘You haven’t turned off the network card, have you? It’s the small button on the front of the keyboard. See if there’s a green light just below the screen.’ I hung up the phone, went back to my desk, sheepishly turned on the network card again, and was very glad there was no one there to see my very red face.
I felt about an inch tall… My misunderstanding about my own knowledge of computers had led me to this very embarrassing moment. My pride was wounded and I had a raging question I wanted answered – Why did such a seemingly insurmountable problem have to have such a simple solution? Or, rather, why did I overcomplicate everything and overlook the obvious, and simple, solution?
In the reading from 2 Kings, we see Naaman faced with a similar problem of pride. In his case as well pride was getting in the way of the solution to the problem he faced. There are several lessons for us in how Naaman and his servants reacted to his opportunity for healing.
Firstly, let’s look at Naaman. He was a great man – the commander of the army of the king of Aram and in ‘great favour’ with his master – but he also had a terrible strike against him, which was that he had leprosy. Even though professionally he was skilled and lauded, he would have had a difficult time personally, as most people with leprosy would have been reviled or even shunned. It is a hideous disease, and would cause his skin to discolour, his hair to fall out, his finger and toenails to become loose, and in the later stages, parts of his body to rot. His wealth and status would have protected him from the reactions of most people to his illness, but he was still condemned to a slow and painful death because of this disease.
But someone put him on to a possible cure – the servant girl who he had captured from Israel, told him of a prophet, Elisha, who could cure his leprosy. He gets permission from the king to go and see him, and even a letter of introduction – and off he goes – only to be met by a servant of the prophet – not even the prophet himself – who tells him to go and wash in a river. Naaman’s pride is bruised – he was expecting more ceremony and pomp than this! He says in verse 11, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!’ How often do we look for a complicated solution to our problems? And how often are we upset and hurt when our view of ourselves is not met by those that we meet? It is only after his servants question this reaction that he agrees to go and wash himself as he was told, and he is cured – ‘his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy and he was clean.’
It is also enlightening to look at the reactions of the servants in the story. There are two groups here, and I think that both are equally brave in how they deal with this situation. The first is the servant girl who suggests that Naaman goes to seek out Elisha in the first place. She is not Naaman’s servant by choice – she was captured by the Arameans in a raid from Israel, and was given to Naaman’s wife as a slave. She was in a foreign land, among people of different traditions and religion, and had no reason to help the man who was her captor. Except that she was compassionate – compassionate enough to recognise a man in pain, and to give him the information that would save his life, regardless of how she had been treated. She saw a man in need, and knew of a solution – and told him about it. She repaid disruption, turmoil and fear with kindness and consideration, and Naaman was blessed because of it.
The second time servants are mentioned, they are also being helpful to their master. Naaman had surrounded himself with people who were compassionate and intelligent, as well as fearless enough to brave his anger and despair to reach out to him. When he gets the wrong end of the stick and begins to rage that Elisha hasn’t some out of the house to heal him himself, his servants point out something quite obvious to him: they say ‘if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you have not done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ They cut through Naaman’s anger and bluster to show him what he needed to see – that what was being asked of him was a simple act, and was a test of his ability to recognise God as more important than himself. Once he submitted himself to the instructions given by Elisha and stopped taking himself so seriously, and once he had faith that he would be healed, he was given what he desired.
So what does this story have to do with us? I think looking at each of the characters in turn will tell us something important.
Naaman was an important man, and had people around him to advise and support him. We too, have people around us who speak the truth, who tell us things that we don’t always want to hear, and tell us when we’re throwing a tantrum and we should just do what we’re told.
But we need to listen to them. We need to accept that these people are speaking out of love and are trying to help us.
We also need to acknowledge that sometimes it’s the being humble enough to follow the advice given to you that’s important. Naaman was incensed that Elisha didn’t come out and make a big fuss over him and his disease, but Elisha was teaching him that Naaman didn’t have the power to cure his own disease, and neither did Elisha – it was necessary for Naaman to submit to God’s will in order to be cured. When he did it, it worked brilliantly – he was given new and clean skin as reward for his faith that the cure would work, and for his humility in accepting that he was not quite as important as he thought.
We should also be like Naaman’s servants, and have the courage to speak to those we love when we see them in pain or lost in their own misunderstanding. The compassion of the servant girl and the courage of Naaman’s other servants helped to guide him and lead him to the opportunity for his healing.
I’m going to leave you with three questions, which we should think about in relation to this reading:
First of all, what is your leprosy, and what is standing in the way of you being healed? Is it an attitude you need to adjust? An act you need to ask forgiveness for? Or an idea that needs changing?
Secondly, who do you know who needs your compassion and faith, and how have you helped them?
And finally, who is speaking truth to you, and are you listening?
May we all listen to God’s will, and have faith that we will be healed.