Sunday, 3 July 2022

Naaman the Self-important

Is it just me, on this fine sunny just-after-Midsummer morning, or is there just the hint of the Epiphany about the story of Naaman the Syrian, great commander of the Aramean army?

He's told there is an answer to his leprosy. He's told that answer lies with Elisha the prophet.

And so he goes to the King of Israel instead. Nearly causing an international incident. There's a problem with prophets generally in Israel and Judah - the ones that are real prophets are too inclined to tell the truth. And the kings can't handle the truth. So the prophets at court are tame ones who say what the kings want to hear. Which means they have traded God's power for earthly power. No wonder the king's so worried - is this a pretext for war?

But just as the Magi went to Jerusalem when they should have gone to Bethlehem in the first place - the power of God is somewhere outside the palace.

And so, like the Magi after him, this man seeking healing from the East comes to Elisha's house. And reveals the source of his confusion. Because he tries to buy his healing. With enough gold and silver to set Elisha up for life and the after life. And some clothes.

Elisha's God doesn't need the money. How can you pay for blessings from the one who smashed stars apart to make gold in the first place? What is God going to do with ten sets of clothes? Because this isn't magic - Elisha doesn't own this healing power. It's God's Spirit that will heal.

All Naaman has to do... is dip himself in the Jordan 7 times. How can that be so hard?

But we find that Naaman's real problem in life isn't leprosy. It's pride. He thought he could buy healing. He thought he'd impress with his gold and silver and oddly-specific number of sets of clothes. But Elisha doesn't even come to the door. He's not impressed by money. All he needs from Naaman is obedience to the true God.

You know the old story that a wise man - St Francis or Thomas Aquinas, according to your Google results - goes to see the Pope. And the Pope's showing him all the Vatican treasure. And refers to the healing in Acts 3, and says "St Peter can no longer say, 'silver and gold have I none'." And Francis or Aquinas or whoever replies, "nor can he any longer say, 'get up and walk'"

Naaman has confused his power with the ability to command God. And you can do a lot with earthly power to command what the Church does, it turns out. From rich families buying up the best Church of England vicarages to modern-day church leaders using their prophetic authority to get away with their sexual felonies. But the One that money and power can't command - is God.

And so Naaman stands and rants. Elisha ain't impressed with his riches. He doesn't even think much of his rivers. But it's the slaves that have wisdom again. They're used to having no power. But they do understand how to do what they're told. They do know where real authority comes from.

"Why not just do what he says. What's it gonna cost you?" 

More than all the gold and silver. When Naaman thought he could buy his healing, he thought his relationship to the God of Israel was transactional. A deal between two partners - I want healing, I have money.

Now he's discovered his relationship to God is one of obedience and trust. Do what you're told, Naaman. And then I'll heal you.

And so Naaman goes through this pre-Baptist baptism. Dipped 7 times for completeness. Coming to God with nothing and knowing he can't compel God - he can only trust.

Which is how we come to God in Baptism. And how we walk with God every day. God delights in your gifts - God gave them to you in the first place. So we come in trust, in obedience, in weakness and trusting in the One who can do everything.

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