It’s time for the next Sunday Retold, and this week’s readings include the story of Naaman from Aram.
You can find all the readings following these links:
2 Kings 5: 1-3, 7-15;2 Timothy 2.8-15; Luke 17:1-19.
The story of Naaman is rich in so many ways. Reading it alongside the Luke passage – the healing of the ten lepers – brings two aspects into particular focus: how we view those not of our tribe, or group, or belief system; and the practice of gratitude.
It’s easy to favour people who are like us, who are part of our group, whatever that may be. It’s easy too for us to slide into hostility, a feeling of superiority, a certainty that we alone are right. In both of these stories, we see God not limited by our categories and barriers, but working in the lives of two people who were regarded as outsiders, enemies even.
Naaman was leader of the armies who were fighting against Israel – as clear an enemy as you could imagine. Yet, he was a human being with a secret need, and a secret fear – of leprosy, which would have put an end to his military career, and made him an outcast. That the enemy of God’s people should be stricken in this way might be something to rejoice over – but not for the young slave he had captured. She had reason to ill-wish her master, but she did not. She conspired to bless him instead. It was three servants, or slaves, who play a key role in this story. They are the ones who move the narrative forward, who nudge the powerful towards right action. The general does well to listen to the one who apparently has no power.
Naaman, who arrived in great power and pomp, causing a diplomatic incident, was not greeted by the prophet in the way he expected – but by a servant. He was asked to take off his robes, his armour, his signs of status, and expose his vulnerable flesh. He had to wash in a foreign river, when he had fine waterways of his own. He would have to bend down, bow into the water.
And then, he was healed, and then, what ripples flowed out from that action. The fates of nations hinged on this act which began with the words of a slave-girl.
One of the ripples was gratitude. And that is the theme of the Gospel story. The gratitude of one who was not part of Israel, had a different theology, different worship practices. Nonetheless, he sought and found healing with Jesus, and was the only one of the ten who returned to say thank you. The nine who were on home territory did not. Perhaps the foreigner could teach us something, here.
Gratitude is a powerful and life-affirming discipline – and it is a discipline. Gratitude sometimes flows naturally, but most of the time, we need to remind ourselves to be thankful. We are so used to problem-solving, that we only see the things we think are broken, and cease to see what is good. When we do, things shift. Gratitude to God and to others can transform things – and not just for us, but for those around us, too.
And, to pick up the earlier theme again, perhaps we can consider how to bless those we think of as not like us, how to break down hostility – even if we find it in our own hearts – and do good to others. Perhaps, like Namaan, we can also learn to receive good from the foreigner, the one we might regard as of low status.
What would the world be like if more of us lived out these two disciplines – blessing the other, and gratitude?
The following extract is from The Bible Retold
Please feel free to use these extracts if they help you, saying where they are from.
NAAMAN FROM ARAM (2 Kings 5)
The little Israelite slave-girl was brushing out the hair of her mistress – the wife of Naaman, whose armies had captured her and brought her to Aram.
“My lady, why are you sad?” she asked.
“My husband the general’s skin is growing worse. It must be leprosy.” She replied, weeping.
“If only my master would visit the prophet of Samaria – he would be cured!” So Naaman went in great state, with his horses and chariots, attendants and guards, through enemy territory to Elisha’s house. But Elisha did not go to greet his mighty guest. He sent a slave with a message “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and you’ll be healed.” Naaman shook with fury.
“What kind of service is this from a holy man? I expected prayers and the laying on of hands! But he just sends this puny messenger! I could have washed at home!” And he turned on his heels to leave. But his servant intervened
“My lord, if the prophet had asked something hard of you, would you not have done it? So why not do this simple thing?” And so Naaman did. He washed in the Jordan seven times, and as he came out into the bright sunlight, he looked down at his skin. It was smooth, perfect, like that of a child. Beaming, he rushed back to Elisha, opening his treasure chest. “Now I know that the God you serve is the true one. Nothing else comes close.” “That is reward enough – you may keep your gold!” Elisha replied. And Naaman went home, telling everyone of God’s great goodness.
And, from Prayers and Verses
May we learn to appreciate different points of view:
To know that the view from the hill is
different from the view in the valley;
the view to the east is different from the
view to the west;
the view in the morning is different from
the view in the evening;
the view of a parent is different from the
view of a child;
the view of a friend is different from the
view of a stranger;
the view of humankind is different from
the view of God.
May we all learn to see what is good, what is true,
what is worthwhile.
O God, help us not to despise or oppose what we do not understand.
William Penn 1644-1718
The olive tree I thought was dead
has opened new green leaves instead
and where the landmines tore the earth
now poppies dance with joy and mirth.
The doves build nests, they coo and sigh
beside the field where corn grows high
and grapes hang heavy on the vine,
and those who fought share bread and wine.
Lord, because you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love;
because you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself;
because you have promised so much, I owe you all of my being.
I am wholly yours by creation: make me all yours, too, in love.
May we enter into God’s conspiracies of blessing this week.
Keat’s Autumn is on my mind at the moment, with the wonderful phrase, “conspire to bless”!