2 Kings 5:1-14 and Psalm 30 • Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16 • Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
How quickly the powerful take offence! In the beautifully written story from 2 Kings, both the Israeli king and the Aramaean military commander require others to assist them in containing their anger. In the case of the king of Israel, it takes Elisha himself to calm him down; with the commander, the urging of servants helps him to put aside his frustration long enough to give the cure recommended by Elisha a chance.
The king had been upset by a request he deemed impossible – a request he thought was a pretext for war. His position as king seems to have had a paradoxical effect: taking all the responsibility on himself, rather than recognizing the many options available to him. In this case, a letter requesting healing made him panic, unable to think through his position and see the potential political leverage in the situation. He seems to have forgotten that there was a prophet in Israel, a prophet who could heal. His fear of the strong Aramean military enemy rendered the king of Israel too angry to think.
Similarly, the military commander, Naaman, angered at his treatment by Elisha, almost walks away from the cure itself. Naaman's exact illness is uncertain – translated as leprosy, the NRSV Bible notes that the word itself was used more generally as a description of many skin conditions. Skin conditions – even a mild case of poison ivy – have a way of preoccupying a person, a nuisance always present, always keeping one from doing more, lest it become aggravated. In Naaman's case, his problem was widely known, as his wife's servant knew of it and the king of Aram himself had provided payment for it. On the trip to Israel, his hopes high, he perhaps dreamed of his healing. He had the resources to see the best doctor, so to speak, in the land. The healer would come to him, wave his hands over him, and heal him in a spectacular display of power. All would be well.
Instead, Elisha sends a message for Naaman to go bathe seven times in the Jordan river: in dirty water, where a large tool could not be observed once it had sunk (2 King 6: 4). Convinced by his servants that it was, after all, worth a try – although reassured that certainly he could have done something much harder – he heads to the river. One can picture him, in each of the seven baths, noticing his skin getting clearer. As the mud dries and he rinses himself, he can begin to feel relief from the constant nuisance of the irritated areas. By the seventh bath, he is a new man, restored to physical health.
He is also restored to emotional health with an inner calm, not present when his skin was itchy. Additionally, he is relieved of the need for spectacular shows of power of chariots and horses, no longer thinking that he must do something difficult to be healed, nor give huge gifts to procure his own health. The opposite has occurred: healing has come to him without trying so hard. He also sees that the waters of Israel are worthy of his respect. In a sense, he moves beyond tribalism, acknowledging Israel's God and asking for loads of Israeli dirt to take back for his worship space.
Many of us carry loads of responsibility, along with loads of tribalism, both of which can lead us astray. Being responsible for others can make a person anxious and unable to think clearly. Being tribal – on the alert for dangerous 'others' – can do the same. In today's story, it is the servants, along with Elisha himself, who have a realistic view of the world. Elisha's refusal to make the healing into a spectacle provides Naaman with a clearer understanding of life and one's place in it.
Psalm 30:11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
Morning: When might I rely on others to calm me down today? How can become aware of times when I'm starting to get upset?
Evening: When did others help me to think or see things more clearly today?