Narrative Lectionary Reflection
November 4, 2018
British author P.G. Woodehouse wrote a series of books focusing on two characters: Jeeves and Wooster (which was also a popular British television series in the early 90s). Set in the 1920s, Betrie Wooster is a member of the idle rich. He tends to come off as very immature, a man with no goals other than hanging out with other members of high society.
Wooster was taken care of by Jeeves, his very intelligent and wise servant. He is the one that gets Wooster out of fixes and keeps Wooster from flying off the handle.
Woodehouse’s stories remind people that the smartest person in the room is not always the one with the position or the big bank account.
Our text today deals with a number of nameless people who work to help the general, Naaman. Naaman was a great military hero, dealing with a skin tradition. Naaman was clueless as to how to heal his condition, but a Jewish servant is able to point Naaman in the right direction. When Naaman initially refuses Elisha’s command to bathe in the Jordan River, it is another nameless servant that persuades the general to do what was asked of him.
Today, we meet Naaman and Elisha and the forgotten servants who helped Naaman see the light and be healed.
Engaging the Text
When Elisha the man of God heard that Israel’s king had ripped his clothes, he sent word to the king: “Why did you rip your clothes? Let the man come to me. Then he’ll know that there’s a prophet in Israel.”
-2 Kings 5:8
The passage opens with the first character, Naaman. He is a mighty warrior, not in Israel, but in Aram (what is now modern-day Syria). Notice what is said in verse one about Naaman: “Naaman, a general for the king of Aram, was a great man and highly regarded by his master because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. (Emphasis mine). This tells us that God works not just for the Jews, but even those considered outside of the covenant.
Then we learn that Naaman has a skin disease. Some versions will say he had leprosy, but it is more likely that he has some kind of skin disease that might make him appear like he is dying. No one wanted to be around a guy who they think is death warmed over.
We also learn in those early passages that Aram goes on out on a raid and captures a young Jewish girl. She is serving the wife of Naaman and then says that she wishes Naaman could go to the great prophet who lives in Israel. This is kind of surprising. This is a young girl that was ripped from her family and is now a servant to a foreign leader. And yet, she was concerned about this foreigner, who took her away and maybe killed her family.
Naaman takes what the young girl has said and comes before his king who then sends a message to the king of Israel. The king of Israel is kind of a comic character in that when he gets the letter he tears his garments, a sign of grief. He thinks this is the end of the world, seemingly forgetting that there is a prophet that can heal Naaman. While the young slave girl believed that Elisha could heal, the great king of Israel has forgotten that there is a prophet that can heal.
Naaman brings the bling to pay Elisha. But Elisha isn’t interested in money. He isn’t interested in fame. He doesn’t even come out to meet with Naaman. Instead, he sends a messenger to tell Naaman to go out and wash seven times in the Jordan in order to be healed.
Naaman is angry. Elisha doesn’t even bother to show his face to Naaman, he just sends a servant to tell him to go and bath in what is nothing more than a muddy stream. You could also imagine he is angry because it feels like again, people are keeping their distance because of his skin condition. Again, someone that was behind the scenes steps forward to calm Naaman down. The servant asks, “Our father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All he said to you was, ‘Wash and become clean.’” Naaman is a general and he took orders and obeyed orders. Isn’t this just one more order to take, one that can heal you? Naaman takes this to heart and bathes in the Jordan and his skin is healed. Naaman returns to Elisha asking him to accept a gift, which Elisha refused. Not only is Naaman’s skin healed, but he also becomes a believer of the God of the Israelites.
I’ve always been fascinated by Rosa Parks. This was a woman who was a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama. She was not a mover or shaker. She was involved in the civil rights movement, but no one thought a simple seamstress, let alone a black simple seamstress could do anything that could change the world.
And yet, her refusal to give up a seat to white man and sit at the back of the bus as all African Americans were supposed to do, changed the course of history. It started a movement, launched the career of Martin Luther King and helped the United States live up to its ideals.
I sat in the actual bus where Parks said “no.” It’s located at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. I was visiting my parents who lived up the road in Flint. Here was a simple bus, a bus where the world changed.
In this text, there are the big people, the movers and the shakers, and the small people, the servants who weren’t even named. But notice who were the ones that changed things. The young slave girl told Naaman and his wife that there was someone who could heal Naaman. The unnamed servant helps Naaman to get over himself in order to do what needed to be done to be healed.
This coming weekend is All Saints Sunday. We tend to think of the big saints, like Francis. But saints also include the older woman who shows up at mission events, or the developmentally disabled man who always greets you with a smile. Saints are not necessarily famous people, but they are faithful people. If it wasn’t for a servant girl and an unnamed servant, Naaman would remained unhealed and not knowing the God of the Israelites. Sometimes it is the “little people” that can change the world.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.