Insulting the Man
2 King 5:1-14
Sermon delivered by Shirley Lin on July 4th, 2010 at Taiwan Presbyterian Church of Greater Boston
(In Chinese, translated by Ken Sun)
Today’s reading is quite interesting. It is not a story of Israel, God’s chosen people, but of Aram. It is not merely a story of God’s miracle, but a lesson in communications and human nature.
What do I mean by this?
Communication is one of the most difficult aspects of human relationship. Even though I am a specialist, one could say, in communications because I am a chaplain and studying psychology, it is still a difficult concept to grasp completely. In today’s short reading, there was a lot of grief and anger throughout. The main character of today’s story is a successful commander of an army. This army, as we know, is actually an enemy of Israel. So we know that at this point in the story, God is punishing Israel for not listening. However, God has not completely abandoned His people.
How do we know that?
Well, because God is still with the prophet, allowing miracles and healing to take place. The prophet, is the prophet of Israel, Elisha. Though Namaan was a capable commander, he was inflicted by leprosy. This is actually a surprising illness for the commander, because leprosy is highly contagious. Those with leprosy were also banished to live in their own communities so they would not give it to others. So, when the Israeli girl said that the leprosy could be cured, this was incredible news. Namaan would probably have done anything to get rid of this disease. The cure would be nothing short of a miracle. He lets his King know of this potential for healing, and the King immediately sends a message to the Israeli King. At this point, we see the king of Israel breaking down and becoming upset. This is an unreasonable request! How dare the King of Aram propose something so difficult and so outrageous?
The two peoples had met in battles previously. There was no war going on right now, but surely this is just an excuse to start a war! As the readers, however, we know that there was no intention for war. In fact, the king even sent a lot of money and gifts to the King of Israel. This was a heartfelt plea to the King of Israel for some serious help for his warrior. Under the circumstances, we can see how it is possible for the Israeli king to misunderstand what is happening. After all, this is an enemy of the state. We do not trust people who have violated us. And yet, it is what we are called to do, not only by Jesus in the New Testament, but just in this passage. It is here that we see how quickly we can jump to conclusions.
Because of their history together, the Israeli king quickly decided that the King of Aram was looking for trouble. He never even thought that it was possible that there WAS a prophet among his people and that God CAN deliver a miracle on their behalf. The situation was defused when Elisha heard what was happening and recognized that the King of Aram was being earnest. Immediately, he sent a messenger to try to clear up the matter. Why have you forgotten about the presence of God with His chosen people? The King of Aram is not stirring up trouble. He has faith in our God! This is NOT about you, king. This is about what is greater than you.
How often do we forget in our communication that it is not all about us?
This past week, I have been emailing with a pastor about a retreat he is asking me to do. We were having some issues, let me tell you. There were a number of things that irked me, which I took care of by calling my parents and yelling at them for getting me into this situation. They loved that, let me tell you. I was irritated that the emails that came questioned my ability to present a topic that I had to come up with because he gave me no direction. Of course, neither was I being clear about what I was proposing. But I was annoyed. This person had given me NO help whatsoever and now he was questioning ME on the way I do things!? Please. Who does he think he is? I was insulted.
Well, I suppose he thinks he’s the pastor and wants to make sure that the children get the experience that should be getting. Perhaps he needed to put together the program for the children so he needed to understand where I was coming from. Communication is hard, precisely because we are wrapped up in our own emotions. In the case of the king of Israel, he was blinded by his fear and horror of the impossibility of the task. In my case, it was feeling insulted. Which, coincidentally, was what happened next.
The prophet Elisha had a messenger send Namaan a message about what he needed to do to become cured. Instead of being happy that what he needed to do was simple, he got angry. In fact, Namaan felt insulted. After all, he was an important man. He could not be bothered to be doing something so trifling as taking a bath. A bath in the Jordan? He had taken baths before. It was not as though bathing was a cure for this disease. And the Jordan? Well, it’s just a river. It wasn’t a special river. There are other rivers that were much better, more deserving! It wasn’t even about the bath, it was the trickery that really made Namaan mad. I mean, to think that this prophet would play such a joke on him was inconceivable. I imagine that even in those days, the way that faith healers cured diseases are much like how they do it today—laying of hands and calling on God. I know this because that was exactly what Namaan expected Elisha to do! And yet—nothing! Namaan was not about to be tricked by an Israelite.
How often do we get upset at news that we do not necessarily want to hear?
Communication can be more difficult than we anticipate. After all, faced with such a horrible disease, could it be possible that something as simple as a bath could turn things around? Yet, his servants reminded him that he had come this way because he had already believed. He had already committed to doing something for his cure. Why not do as he was told? What did he have to lose? And that’s the question we all have to ask ourselves, hopefully without needing to resort to taking out our emotions on others. Why did that person say what he is saying to me?
We often jump to conclusions first, without trusting in the goodness of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We often allow our emotions, which could stem from something completely unrelated, to cloud our judgment. In my case, it was my past experience of feeling judged as young and inexperienced that made my response to the pastor’s email so immediately frustrated—not to mention this email came on the heels of another miscommunication. Once my parents talked me down from my emotions, I was able to respond in a profession and mature way.
One of the greatest things that resulted from God’s love to us is our relationship with one another. However, simply because this is a gift does not mean that this is an easy task. Thus, we must have wisdom in our actions, not only to regain ourselves before we respond, but also to listen to those around us who might be able to see the situation with more clarity than we can, like the servants of Namaan. And then we place our trust in God. Asking and allowing God to cleanse us, not of leprosy, but from our own judgments, disappointments, and anger. So that we might go out and serve God and our neighbors as we were called to.
Let us try this week to give those with whom we communicate the benefit of the doubt, that they are not out to get us; they are not judging us and insulting us; but are offering themselves to us in a genuine way.