I’m a really fun guy. Seriously, I am. Don’t believe me? Well my wife laughs at me every day, so there. Plus I can’t resist standup comedy and I have red sneakers. I’ve been Santa Claus a couple times in the past and I don’t take the top of my head seriously. So … how could I not be fun?
Of course you would never guess that from the material I’ve highlighted in today’s blog. As I continue the discipline of writing from the Sunday Lectionary readings, two stories stood out to me this week. They are both about leprosy – not exactly a joyful topic.
One of them is about Naaman, the top military commander of the kingdom of Aram, who we immediately learn has leprosy. What complicates this story is that he had previously led an incursion into Israel where his army seized a piece of their territory. He finds himself in the unenviable position of traveling there in search of someone who can heal him.
The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.
At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”
So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel . . .
. . . The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”
When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”
But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”
So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”
But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.
But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!
Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” – 2 Kings 5:1-3; 7-15 (NLT)
To be clear, I never use the word ‘muddle’ or any of its conjugations, and in fact this may be my first time. I suppose I could have used ‘awkward’ to describe the activities in the story but admit it, muddled is the word we want here.
Things become muddled when the main personalities are forced outside of their traditional roles and they have to participate in the unexpected. When we think of the desperation of the first king, the sensitivity of the slave girl, the vulnerability of the commander, the ineptitude of the Israelite king, and the dispassionate instructions from Elisha, muddled is easily the best description.
Leprosy does not belong in the body of a strong person and the usually powerful kings are helpless. Naaman resists following foolish orders from the unseen prophet: I traveled all this way into foreign territory just to be ignored and then told to take a swim in this river? How many times?
The muddled-ness takes on larger dimensions as the roles of politics, power, and wealth lose their currency and are replaced with concern, humility, and faith. A displaced girl and a reluctant man of God become islands of peace in a muddled tale. In the end they become doors to the physical and spiritual baptism of a desperate but unlikely suspect.
The girl and the prophet didn’t have easy lives but they were not muddled like the others around them. Politics, power and money had been replaced in their lives with concern, humility, and faith. What they had in common was a quiet trust in God.
Have you ever felt muddled? You know, out of place, out of sync, uncomfortable, barraged? Circumstances have brought you to a muddled situation that is not what you wanted, but nevertheless here you are.
You know that’s okay, right? Life often happens in muddled ways through no fault of anyone. All I want to say is that muddle is normal and God cares and understands when it happens. That’s why Jesus is such a great resource (good idea, God!) as a real person to observe, know, speak to, trust. Our mentor and peaceful core in a muddled world.
I invite you again to reflect with gratitude on what you have, pray with persistent hope for what you need, and find a solid place of peace in the arms of God.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Voting day is practically here. Oh man…
As I have written previously, our current election has brought out a lot of personal insults, single issue voting blocs and us-against-them campaigning. And always those who are fully convinced which party has the moral high ground.
Yet as I look at the parties, their leaders and platforms, I find myself in the middle of another muddle: who should I vote for on a ballot where no one speaks for me?
If you read ahead in 2 Kings 5, Elisha rejects any kind of reward for the healing (!) and Naaman promises to only worship this God who has made him whole. He asks one favour however. When he returns home and his king worships another deity, Naaman will be required to hold his arm and bow with him and he wonders if that is acceptable.
Elisha surprisingly responds with, ‘Go in peace’.
The only advice I have for voting is to make your best decision, knowing that you will be voting for a muddled party that you will disagree with at times. God created all the colours and he is not represented by one party or another so just make your best choice and work within that. God understands the complexity of that.
Vote in peace.