â€œTake a Bathâ€
2 Kings 5:1-14, Mark 1:40-45
Click the title for the recording of the sermon that I delivered at Cole Harbour Woodside United Church this morning.
Our readings this morning offer a challenging concept to the Western world today. They speak of miraculous physical healing, which happen all through the Gospel of Mark. We don’t hear much of such a thing very often anymore, we are immersed in the logic of science and research that is played out in our laboratories and hospitals.
I’m not trying to lessen the work that these people do, it’s all very important, but we want to remember that there is still yet a presence that is beyond all others, that we come to worship this morning.
In the story of Naaman, we hear of a great warrior in the land of Aram. Commander of the Kings armies, winner of many battles! But he has some sort of skin condition, a flaw in what is otherwise perfect.
Leprosy in those days was used to name just about any type of skin condition, not necessarily what we have come to know it as today. If Naaman had true leprosy, he certainly would have been shunned from society, so whatever he had, it was not serious enough to attract such attention. But Naaman is bothered by this imperfection, and cannot find a way to get rid of it. He wants to be perfect!
So here comes a little slave girl from the land of Israel. She was probably caught in some sort of border skirmish as it is thought that the two countries were are at peace at this time. Her faith appears to come pretty naturally to her, and also bravery! She speaks to Naaman’s wife about a prophet in her land that can heal this condition, which then probably brings her before Naaman. The slave girl shares her story with this great warrior, a man who sees her as worth less than a piece of furniture. Naaman must be pretty desperate to be healed at this point, because he takes the girl’s message to the king.
What happens next is rather amusing when you think about it. They have this problem, so to fix it what do they do? They act like any government I’ve ever heard act. They throw a whole lot of cash at it hoping that this will solve it. Sound familiar to anyone? The king writes a letter and sends Naaman off to the king of Israel with gifts of gold, silver and fancy clothing. Some modern thinkers put the value at all he was carrying around $1.5 million.
So here comes Naaman and this great entourage of chariots and servants, and probably some sort of media following, I’m not sure, it doesn’t say if there was CNN back then. A great parade full of pomp and circumstance befitting a great diplomatic convoy.
Naaman is assuming that a man of great healing powers must the King, or at least someone pretty close to him, and goes to the palace. The King has no idea what he’s talking about.
â€œAre you kidding me? Who do you think I am? God? Are you trying to start a war?â€
I think we are starting to see the potential beginning of an international incident.
But Elisha, the prophet that the young slave girl was talking about, catches wind of what’s happening at the palace and sends word for Naaman come see him. So… Naaman brings his whole entourage and pulls up in front of Elisha’s house.
I can see it now, a group of men, dressed in great ceremonial garments, standing on the sidewalk briefing Naaman on what he can expect. The media focused on one of two things. Some on the group of men, trying to get sound bites of what they are talking about. The others with cameras trained on the door, waiting to see Elisha step outside to meet them. People are at home, seeing both images on the TV screen. One on the left, the other on the right. And the news ticker running across the bottom with the latest developments.
The door opens, cameras click madly, bodies lean forward in anticipation. But Elisha sidesteps all the ritualistic expectations, and sends servant with a message. The message? â€œTake a bath in the Jordan seven times.â€
Here’s Naaman. All dressed up, surrounded by people. The King accuses him of trying to start a war. Some guy tells him to come see him for help, and he won’t even show his face! How terribly frustrating!
Don’t they know that Naaman is a great warrior?
Don’t they know how many battles he’s won?
Don’t they see how great a following he has?
â€œI expect to be healed! Where’s the magic incantations, the waving of hands? Go take a bath? YOU go take a bath! If I wanted to take a bath, I’d do it in the rivers of my land, they’re much greater than your muddy Jordan river!â€
He’s right, the two rivers he mentions are likely two beautiful rivers that fed the city of Damascus, a great green oasis city.
Imagine going to the doctor with a sore elbow.
â€œDoctor, it hurts when I do this.â€
Instead of ordering x-rays, or writing a prescription she replies â€œWell, don’t do that thenâ€ and then tells you to soak it for a couple days.
I hate it when doctors do this, don’t you? I want to feel better now! Sure I can go home and soak it, but how does that help me curl tomorrow?
So Naaman storms off. And again it’s a servant that comes to him.
â€œUmm… sir? Why don’t you try it? I mean, if he asked you to do something hard, like slay a beast or climb a mountain, you’d do that wouldn’t you?â€
Naaman listens to this servant and decides to head to the Jordan. Why not? This great warrior, dressed in his best ceremonial battle clothes walks up to the river, still surrounded by his army and servants. He won’t want to spoil is fancy clothes, so he’ll have to strip naked. He’ll have to strip off all that shows his honour and power and pride.
He steps gingerly into the cold Jordan river to bathe. Once… twice… up to the seven times that he was told. As he emerges one last time, he looks down and sees he is healed! Not a sign of anything ever being wrong. No scars, no more scratches, just completely restored skin!
I had two questions after reading this…
Why did Elisha not show himself before Naaman?
What is the purpose for the bathing?
Elisha was making a point. Sure he might have gone out and called on the name of God to come and heal this man as part of some great ceremony. But what if he did? He’d be the great and powerful healer, he’d be the hero. No, by sending Naaman away he sent another message. No man can heal you of this, only God can choose to do so. By removing all his garments, Naaman is vulnerable, humbled. People could see his disease, no longer hidden by signs of his greatness.
How proud and great was Naaman at the beginning of the story. Yet he was not completely satisfied. He was still hung up on his imperfections. It is when he becomes weak and vulnerable that he is healed. It is in his humility that he is made whole.
We did not read this morning what happens next.What happens next is Naaman goes back to Elisha to offer a reward. When Elisha refuses to take it, Naaman makes another request. He asks for two loads of soil from Israel. This dirt is so he can build an alter to the God of Israel and worship him on the foreign soil of his homeland Aram. Naaman is converted! He sees the wonder and grace of God, and wishes to continue building that relationship.
In our Gospel reading this morning, another man is suffering from leprosy and calls on Jesus for healing. However, unlike Naaman, this man is banished from society due to his illness. By law he has to remain more than 100 meters from all other people. If someone starts to get close to him, he is to call out warning to them.â€œUNCLEAN!â€ This man is so desperate to be healed that he ignores the rules and approaches Jesus.
For all we know, he might have been following Jesus for some time. But only now has mustered the courage to work his way through the crowd to fall at Jesus’ feet, begging for healing. â€œIf you so choose… you can make me clean.â€
Mark records that Jesus felt pity for this man. Maybe he noticed the man following from a distance… Maybe Jesus saw how the people reacted with disgust as he wandered through the crowd… Maybe Jesus sensed his loneliness and desperation… Whatever it was, Jesus chose, he chose to reach out and heal the man by touching him.
How often are we told in our lives to stand up for ourselves, to be proud, to be strong? What do we say to people who are sick or depressed? “Hang in there? Be strong and things will get better!â€ Think back to times when we’ve found ourselves in trouble. What usually gets us there?
I don’t know about you, but for me it’s usually because I’ve done something stupid because I let my pride get in the way.â€œI know what I’m doing, this will be a piece of cake!â€ How often does thinking like that result in statements like…â€œWhoops, didn’t expect that to happen!â€ or… â€œHmmm… that person didn’t quite react the way I expected.â€ or just plain â€œI’m sorry.â€
Pride can blind us to many things because we can’t see anything else but ourselves. Naaman could only see himself as a champion, a great hero. But he wasn’t perfect. When he humbled himself, pulled off the layers of his ego, he opened himself up to God. He was not only healed that day, he had a conversion experience! No longer was he just a great and mighty hero, he became a humble servant of God.
We all have things in our lives that distance us from God. Pride… emotions like anger or fear. Some people are preoccupied with addictions of one sort or another.
Healing happens. It’s not always physical, but it’s always personal. God does amazing work. But God can’t work with us until we give up the things that push us away.
In both examples in our readings this morning, both men were healed when they humbled themselves in the presence of God. And in both examples, each went off to worship God for the gifts that were given.
When we choose to give up our barriers. When we strip off the layers that we use to protect ourselves, we too can bathe in the love of God. We can bathe in the grace that pours so freely from the cross. The cross where Jesus gave of himself, powerless to the forces of the world. In that humility, he offered himself to all of us.
Where is Jesus in your life? Inside or outside the layers? Come, let us bathe in the glory of God together.