Shocked by the Enemy’s God – February 16, 2003

Epiphany 6, Year B
Feb 16, 2003

Grace to you and peace,
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

So can you imagine
it? I mean, really, would he do, that? You mean to tell me
that Naaman, our great, decorated and victorious general went to

Israel

? We’re not
fighting a war with them, are we? Ugh,
the disgrace! Those Israelites, good for
nothing but conquest. 

 

Why would someone like
Naaman go over to

Israel

? Sheesh,
Naaman is better than that – he could conquer their whole army with one hand
tied behind his back. You remember how
he took care of those guys in the last raid? It was such an overwhelming victory that the Israelites – get this –
that the Israelite losers said that their
God was on our side! Yeah, they said that Yahweh helped us, the
Syrians, defeat them, the Israelites.

The promised land. The chosen people. Give me a break. We’re better than them.

 

Hey, what do you call an
Israelite servant? The spoils of war. Yeah, that’s one of the benefits of crossing
the

Jordan

into their land – you can get some of the best servants
in all of greater

Syria

.

 

But, but why did he go
over there? Oh, you got to be kidding
me. Healing? And why did Naaman go there for healing? What, is
he into some kind of weird, hippyish healing remedies? What’s wrong? Our doctors, our prophets, our healers are not good enough for him? What is it with these generals these
days? Is it now chick to go to the conquered
peoples for healing and wholeness? Oh
well, it must be a midlife crisis thing.

 

So, uh, who put him up to
this, anyway? His Israelite servant girl
gave him the idea? The one he took
during the raid several years ago? What
a joke! He wouldn’t listen to her! He’s a Syrian, she’s an Israelite. He’s a general, she’s a servant. He’s a man, she’s a girl. He’s old, she’s young. He is strong and powerful, and she is weak
and powerless. Naaman listens to an
Israelite servant – that’s a good one!

 

Wait, you’re serious,
aren’t you? Has he lost his mind? Or, or could it make any sense? Nah, it couldn’t make any sense. Pshaw, he’d never listen to that slave girl.

 

He did, huh? So what happened next? He took nearly a thousand pounds in gold and
silver as an offering to the Israelite healer? Hey, who is this healer, anyway? Elisha? Elisha? Hmm, sounds fishy to me. 

 

OK, so General Naaman listens
to his servant girl, goes to those conquered people to this Elisha fellow and
asks to be healed – I still can’t believe it, but I’ll go along with it for
now. Even if it were true, I can just
see it now!  What a sight to see! I can just see it – Naaman rides up in his
military escort, dozens of soldiers flanking his chariot, guards clothed in armor
with swords at the ready, his grand, gold-lined chariot tearing up the dust in
that oft-conquered land. This Elisha
character must have been nervous as anything, trembling in his sack-cloth – I
mean, Naaman, the Great General Naaman of the Syrian Army, is coming to his
door. I’ll bet Elisha ran out to meet
Naaman along the road to beg for mercy and plead for Naaman not to re-conquer
his country. So, how did this Elisha fellow
respond, anyway?



What? What do you mean he sent a messenger? You mean to tell me that Elisha did not go
out to meet Naaman himself? Yeah, well
I’ll bet Naaman was angry. I mean, General
Naaman doesn’t make a trip like that to have a conversation with the servant of
an Israelite healer. Who does Elisha
think he is? And the messenger said
what? He instructed Naaman to go wash in
the

Jordan River

? First, who
is he to give instructions to Naaman? And
second, what makes the

Jordan
River

so special? It is a mere muddy stream! Hardly a river to speak of. We have much better rivers in our country.

 

Of course he refused! Finally, some sanity! I wouldn’t get into that nasty river if my
life depended on it. Yeah, that’s right,
you’d expect some prayers, something fancy, something fitting for a general! My God, our healers, our Syrian healers would
have rolled out the red carpet, and shown some respect for this general. But a simple bath in a small river for this
great man? Please . . . .

 

But then he changed his
mind? He decided to go wash in the

Jordan River

? Oh,
another servant gave him this idea! Look
at Naaman – listening to these lowly servants. I think he’s lost his mind. What
is our great country coming to?!?!?!?

 

So, what happened  – I mean, I still don’t believe this, but what
happened after he listened to his servant girl, went
to

Israel

to be healed, sought out a healer who wouldn’t
talk to him, and washed in that piddly puddle called the

Jordan River

? What
happened next?

 

Naaman was healed? Healed? By the Israelite prophet in that puny Israelite river? Wait a minute. He was healed? By that prophet? No, not the prophet, but by their God? Yahweh? And all Naaman did was wash in that river? Yahweh, the God of Israel did that for
Naaman, the general of the Syrian army?

 

This makes no sense. None at all. I mean, look at the whole story – an Israelite slave girl, a conquered
people, a prophet who doesn’t really care that Naaman is powerful and strong, and
a simple bath in a small river. And Naaman
is healed.

What kind of God is this? What kind of God is this Yahweh that doesn’t
require hundreds of pounds of gold and silver, that doesn’t require elaborate
rituals, that doesn’t limit mercy to just one peoples?

 

Is this, perhaps, a God
for all peoples? Can it be? Can there be a God for both Syrians and
Israelites? I mean, Yahweh is the God of
Israel, our enemy, a nation that we have gone to war with before, and which we
will go to war with again. Yet that God
– that God of a conquered and suffering people – gave mercy to us,  the powerful and mighty. This God, Yahweh, gave mercy and healing to a
man who has inflicted such pain and suffering on the chosen people. 

 

This God is not like us. This God is a merciful God, slow to anger and
abounding in love, even love for us, for the ruthless conquerors. Oh my God, this is a God for all people, for
the suffering, conquered people, and also, by grace, for us who conquer. This is a God who speaks to us through the
weak and the lowly – such as Naaman’s servant girl. This is a God who gives such great power
through such simple means – such as that bath in the

Jordan River

. This is a
God who does not share our values of power, wealth and might, but who confronts
them with a radical simplicity, a grace-filled low-profile, that challenges our
grandiose way of doing things.

 

Yes, this is a God who stoops
down to the lowest levels to love and embrace and heal. This is a God who calls us to step down from
our self-appointed high places, to experience the radical love of a radical
God, who speaks to us in the least expected ways.

 

This is a God who changes
our world view, reorients our understanding of power, and who gives grace and mercy to all of us, even to us who wage
war, even to us who conquer. 

 

Oh that this God would
transform each of us, like Naaman.

 

All glory and honor is
yours, oh God, now and forever.

Amen.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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