Healing the Enemy
Scriptures: II Kings 5:1-14; Luke 23:32-34
A couple weeks ago I used a comic strip from Peanuts. This
week I am using one from my other all-time favorite theologically loaded comic strip: Calvin and Hobbes. [Slide 1: Moe] In this strip Moe, the consummate bully says to Calvin, "Get off the swing, Twinky." Calvin says, "Forget it, Moe. Wait your turn." In the next frame [Slide 2: Punch] . well, you get the idea. In the last frame [Slide 3: Calvin on ground] Calvin says, "It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning."
I would think that the Israelites felt the same way about
Naaman. Naaman was the commander for the armies of Aram, located in modern day Syria, and in the time of our scripture reading Aram was the neighborhood bully. Verse 2: [Slide 4: v. 2] "Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel and she served Naaman's wife." Let that sink in for a moment. The army of Aram, commanded by Naaman, conducted raids against the Israelites and took some of their young girls as captive slaves. Do you remember this headline? [Slide 5: Headline about Boko Haram] How angry would you be if you were one of those students or their parents? How angry would you be if you were that Israelite slave girl or her parents? [Slide 6: Calvin on ground] It is hard to be religious when certain people are not incinerated by lightning bolts. [Slide 7: Blank]
Naaman was not incinerated, but there was a certain
reckoning in his life. He contracted leprosy, which in that culture was a dreaded, disfiguring, and potentially isolating skin disease. He may have been a powerful commander, but suddenly he needed help from a higher power.
One year at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast in Spokane, the speaker was
Adolph Coors IV, great-grandson of the founder of the Coors Brewing Company. He told of growing up in a family that had everything. "My father was god to me," he said. "I wanted to grow up to be just like him, strong and important." To accomplish this the young Coors graduated from Denver University School of Business determined to take over the family brewery. He became obsessed with body-building, martial arts, and material success. He said, "I thought a real man was playing par golf, making a six-figure income, and being able to fight my way out of any bar."
At the age of 30 he was well on his way to accomplishing
these goals when he suffered a near fatal car accident. "Life doesn't shout," he told the crowd, "it just runs out . sooner than you think."
That's what Naaman discovered. He may have been the bully,
the powerful general, but his body was just as fragile, just as vulnerable to injury, disease, and death as everyone else. Life doesn't shout, it just runs out . sooner than you think.
But then Naaman gets help from the most unexpected source:
the slave girl kidnapped! Verse 3: "She said to her mistress, 'If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.'" What an extraordinary statement. This slave girl kidnapped by an Aramean bully, wants healing for him and tells him where to find it.
You know, we preachers cannot save anyone; we can only tell
people about Someone who can. Please remember that. We preachers never save anybody; we can only tell people about Someone who can. The slave girl tells Naaman about a prophet who can heal him.
At that point Naaman shifts into full power mode. He takes
ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of royal robes to buy his healing. To put this in perspective, a king named Omri paid two talents of silver for all the land on which he built the city of Samaria (I Kings 16:24). Two talents of silver will buy you enough land for a city. Naaman is prepared to pay ten talents of silver for his healing.
Naaman represents all those who think that enough money,
enough power, and enough achievement will solve all our problems. He is an ancient version of Adolph Coors IV. He does not know how to deal with grace.
Here is an etching of the scene of Naaman arriving at the
door of Elisha the prophet [Slide 8: Naaman and Elisha]. I like this etching because it shows the humor of the scene. This army commander riding in a chariot with a retinue of troops carrying all this wealth, displaying all this power, arrives at the door of Elisha, and Elisha does not even come out to meet him. The figure in the etching is not Elisha, it's the servant. Elisha sends his servant out to Naaman with this message: "Go wash in the Jordan River seven times, and you will be healed."
Talk about a snub. Naaman is incensed. He says, "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." It's all about power; it's all about status; it's all about show." But Elisha doesn't show. He just sends out his servant who says, "Go wash in the Jordan River."
Here is a drawing of Naaman washing in the Jordan River.
[Slide 9: Naaman in the Jordan] Does it remind you of anything? It reminds me of baptism. It looks like the Bible story pictures you see of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River, or maybe the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch who was also riding in a chariot before he was baptized by Philip in the book of Acts. Naaman wants an impressive show of God's power to go along with his own impressive show of wealth, but Elisha tells him to go to the muddy Jordan River, take off his clothes and be washed in God's grace. [Slide 10: Blank]
After his near fatal car accident Adolph Coors IV began
asking himself some questions: "Who are you, really? Why are you here, really? Where are you going, really?" These questions caused him to take a new look at his life. He began to spend more time with his wife and three year-old son, whom he had virtually abandoned in pursuit of success. He also renewed his relationship to God, whom he had abandoned to worship other things. Eventually he left the family brewery and began using his management skills with various Christian organizations, including Campus Crusade for Christ and Prison Fellowship. His car accident and near fatal injuries helped him discover a new relationship to God and a new meaning for his life.
Naaman's leprosy helped him discover a new relationship to God and a
new meaning for his life. After his healing Naaman returns to Elisha and says, [Slide 11: Quote] "Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; . for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any God except the Lord."
In the end Naaman is healed not just of his leprosy but of his
animosity, his hostility toward God and God's people. How did that happen? It happened because he was shown mercy by a servant girl whom he had kidnapped and taken away from her home. He is saved by the very person he had wronged. [Slide 12: Blank]
Which brings us to the story of Jesus. Like Naaman, we are
saved by the person we have wronged. We are forgiven and healed by the very person we put on a cross.
Let's be clear about this. It is not the Jews who are to
blame for Jesus' death on the cross, nor even the Romans. It's all of us. That is the point of what Christians call the atonement. On the cross when Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing," he was not just talking about the Roman guards who crucified him nor the Jewish leaders who asked for it. He was talking about all of us. We have all, like Naaman, like Adolph Coors IV, been caught up in our own world of success, accomplishment, money, travel, sports, adventure, romance, video games, or whatever. We have cruised or stumbled through life paying little attention to the God who put us here and called us to love one another.
A psychiatrist named Carl Jung once said, [Slide 13: Jung
That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ -- all these are undoubtedly great virtues.
I think here of those people from the church in Charleston, SC, who got up one at a time to offer forgiveness to the shooter who killed nine of their church members. That is the slave girl's response to Naaman.
. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself -- that these are within me, . that I myself am the enemy who must be loved -- what then?
That's where the story of the slave girl becomes the story
of Jesus. For as the slave girl realized, God can heal enemies, which means that God can also heal us. [Slide 14: Blank]