It’s Not Naaman’s Fault!

Today’s lectionary included 2 Kings 5:1-15:

Na’aman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little maid from the land of Israel, and she waited on Na’aman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Sama’ria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Na’aman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the maiden from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten festal garments. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Na’aman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he rent his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” But when Eli’sha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you rent your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Na’aman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the door of Eli’sha’s house.  And Eli’sha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Na’aman was angry, and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper. Are not Aba’na and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, `Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him; and he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”

wounded child cryingI first read this story when I was five. Once my hands had been well scrubbed, I would stand on a dining room chair and read from the illustrated “family” Bible. The book was too big for me to lift so it lay on the big table and I propped myself on one hand while turning the pages with the other. The lovely pastel illustration showed Naaman’s little maid servant peeping over the edge his chariot as he dipped himself in the river. She was, at most, about six or seven.

I’ve reread the story the story of Naaman’s healing many times since, in many translations. I’ve also heard many sermons and homilies on 2 Kings 5 from different Christian preachers. All of them have been much like the one I heard today, an exhortation to accept healing by doing the simple things God asks of us, particularly admitting our sins. But today, I realized Naaman isn’t a leper because he has done something wrong. He is ill. Elisha does not tell Naaman to confess his sins. Instead, Elisha gives him a treatment protocol so that he will be healed from the disease that has invaded his body.

Those of us who were abused as children (and the numbers are staggering) can sit in church and find ourselves bewildered. It’s such a simple thing, Confess your sins and you will be healed. The book of James tells us that. But our gaping wounds, though hidden, come not from what we did. Rather, they come from what was done to us. Except in rare instances, confession of my sins against God and my neighbour, while necessary, won’t heal the wounds others have incised within me. And, being told to stop the obsessive behaviours that came as a result of the sins committed against us is utterly ineffective. Usually we can’t just stop. We need something else.

At times, I have wanted to sit in a public square and cry out, Look! Look at what was done to me! Look! Instead, I learned to act as normally as I could. It was not until I found myself overwhelmingly loved by other Christians in Christian community that I was seen and loved as the wounded creature I am. The love I encountered didn’t negate or ignore any of the wisdom I had gained, neither did it patronize me. The love of my brothers and sisters, the love of the Body of Christ, scooped up the whole of me, including the crier in the public square. Before I knew what was happening, those Christians scooped me up and healing was happening. Some of them still don’t know the extent of the wounds I carry.

Children are inordinately harmed by the evils in this world because they are unable to fend for themselves. But many of us grow up. Some seek revenge on the entire world or as much of it as they can affect. But others simply do the best we can with broken hearts and shredded souls. And, quite simply, we’ve all been a bit shredded. One thing that might start many on the road to healing is acknowledgement of those times when Scripture makes it clear, the wounds are not always our fault but God will heal us anyway.

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