“A New Creation”
2Kings 5:1-19 and Galatians 6:12-15
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
Naaman, a general for the king of Aram, was a great man and highly regarded by his master, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. This man was a mighty warrior, but he had a skin disease. 2 Now Aramean raiding parties had gone out and captured a young girl from the land of Israel. She served Naaman’s wife.
3 She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master could come before the prophet who lives in Samaria. He would cure him of his skin disease.” 4 So Naaman went and told his master what the young girl from the land of Israel had said.
5 Then Aram’s king said, “Go ahead. I will send a letter to Israel’s king.”
So Naaman left. He took along ten kikkars of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. 6 He brought the letter to Israel’s king. It read, “Along with this letter I’m sending you my servant Naaman so you can cure him of his skin disease.”
7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he ripped his clothes. He said, “What? Am I God to hand out death and life? But this king writes me, asking me to cure someone of his skin disease! You must realize that he wants to start a fight with me.”
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that Israel’s king had ripped his clothes, he sent word to the king: “Why did you rip your clothes? Let the man come to me. Then he’ll know that there’s a prophet in Israel.”
9 Naaman arrived with his horses and chariots. He stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent out a messenger who said, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored and become clean.”
11 But Naaman went away in anger. He said, “I thought for sure that he’d come out, stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the bad spot, and cure the skin disease. 12 Aren’t the rivers in Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all Israel’s waters? Couldn’t I wash in them and get clean?” So he turned away and proceeded to leave in anger.
13 Naaman’s servants came up to him and spoke to him: “Our father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All he said to you was, ‘Wash and become clean.’” 14 So Naaman went down and bathed in the Jordan seven times, just as the man of God had said. His skin was restored like that of a young boy, and he became clean.
15 He returned to the man of God with all his attendants. He came and stood before Elisha, saying, “Now I know for certain that there’s no God anywhere on earth except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.”
16 But Elisha said, “I swear by the life of the Lord I serve that I won’t accept anything.”
Naaman urged Elisha to accept something, but he still refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, then let me, your servant, have two mule loads of earth. Your servant will never again offer entirely burned offerings or sacrifices to any other gods except the Lord.18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master comes into Rimmon’s temple to bow down there and is leaning on my arm, I must also bow down in Rimmon’s temple. When I bow down in Rimmon’s temple, may the Lord forgive your servant for doing that.”
19 Elisha said to him, “Go in peace.” (CEB)
Life has been good for Naaman. In Aram, he’s a great general, respected by both his king and the men under his command. He’s got fame, fortune, influence, and all that. Then one day, he notices a spot on his skin, a spot that makes him unclean and will derail his reputation and career unless someone can heal him.
Naaman’s wife’s servant is an Israelite girl captured on one of Aram’s military campaigns. She learns of the general’s affliction and tells Naaman’s wife, Back home in Israel there’s a prophet named Elisha. He can get rid of that spot quicker than you can say Jezebel.
So Naaman heads to Israel with his king’s blessing and half the country’s treasury to boot. He plans to purchase a healing from Elisha; but a letter sent by the Aramean king on behalf of his valued general is addressed to the king of Israel. And when the Israelite king reads it, he comes unglued thinking he’s being set up. Ripping his robe, he shouts, Does this Aramean troublemaker think I’m God? I can’t anymore cure leprosy than I can the madness that made him ask! I know why he’s asking. He wants me to fail! He wants Naaman to go home with that spot still there. Then he’ll march his army down here and start something!
When Elisha hears of the king’s tantrum, he shows up and asks why the king ruined a perfectly good outfit.
Send Naaman to me, says Elisha. I’ll take care of this. And he does, but not to Naaman’s liking. All Elisha does is send a messenger to Naaman telling him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. This infuriates Naaman, who considers himself a VIP, someone deserving deferential treatment. So, Naaman throws a fit of his own.
Surely, he says, the great rivers of Aram out-class this pathetic little trickle they call a river! Better for me to go home and wash in them!
Naaman’s servants look at each other and say, Um, sir, we mean no disrespect, but had the prophet told you to do something difficult, or even dangerous, you would have done it, wouldn’t you? All he’s asking you to do is go dip yourself in a river. We’re nothing but servants, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt, just this once, to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Because one mark of a good leader is the humility to take good advice, Naaman walks down to the Jordan River and plunges into the water seven times. When he finishes, and the spot is gone, he hurries back to Elisha and says, It worked! What do I owe you?
The prophet looks at Naaman and says, Not even in God’s name will accept anything from you.
This confounds Naaman. In his world you pay for or earn whatever you get. But Elisha, who has restored Naaman to society, to his career, to life itself will accept nothing in return.
To people of privilege and power, grace is often more disorienting than liberating. When we’re open, though, disorientation can become re-orientation. And we begin to see evidence of Naaman’s own re-orientation. Preparing to return to Aram, he asks for a couple of mule-loads of Israelite dirt to take home with him. In ancient polytheism, gods were territorial and could only be worshiped when the worshiper was on that god’s turf. So, Naaman tries to take Yahweh with him by taking some of Israel with him. And through that ritualistic act, Naaman professes his faith in and devotion to the God of Israel.
Naaman had come to buy help with a skin irritation. What he got was a new life. When he went home, the old Naaman was gone and a new Naaman had begun. He was a new creation.
The point of the story really isn’t the healing. It’s Naaman realizing that there is something greater than him, something greater than king and country, something greater than military and economic power. There is Yahweh, who is present in sickness and in health and who does not withhold grace, not even from those who don’t believe in God.
On top of that, Elisha’s response reveals that there are at least some who do not wield their faith as a weapon or exploit it for personal advantage. To Elisha, neither Aramean nor Israelite matters. What matters is who a person becomes when he or she loves and follows God.
This brings us to Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In the sixth chapter, Paul says:
12 Whoever wants to look good by human standards will try to get you to be circumcised, but only so they won’t be harassed for the cross of Christ. 13 Those who are circumcised don’t observe the Law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised, so they can boast about your physical body
14 But as for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through him, and I have been crucified to the world. 15 Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t mean anything. What matters is a new creation. (Galatians 6:12-15 – CEB)
“What matters,” says Paul, is who we are becoming in Christ. The trick is recognizing that real and lasting change involves a turn of the heart. When we concentrate on nothing but externals, we are blind to the presence and work of God within us and among us. For Naaman, grace comes not so much through the healing of his spot, but through the clever way Elisha baptizes him and blesses him. And in his selfishness, he could have missed it, because he didn’t even know what kind of healing he really needed.
It seems to me that God most often makes us new by healing us of things for which we don’t even know we need healing, especially that pervasive gremlin of selfishness and all of its blinding offspring, like pride, fear, and violence. For Naaman, self-serving nationalism and racism had become the spot he needed to recognize, confess, and to have washed away. And as that spot faded, he began to see himself, his neighbors, and the world in a new and more gracious light.
Externals don’t matter, says Paul. What matters is becoming new creations in Christ who heals us by empowering us to love one another as he loves us.
I know that I’m fond of saying that we are to love everyone, and I do trust that to be true. Having said that, I’ve also been re-thinking how I say that. To say that we are to love everyone is abstract, and that makes is a little too easy. The hard thing to do is to love the person standing next to us in the moment. And to love that person, here and now, whoever they are, is how we love everyone. This is what Richard Rohr means when he says, “How we do anything is how we do everything.”
To love the person in front of us as Christ loves us—that’s what Elisha does for Naaman. And that’s precisely how we, too, embrace and embody the new creation we are becoming in Christ.