Summary: The scripture reading show that God has no limits in the way that humans perceive them, and challenges listeners to consider their own limits.
2 Kings 5.1-15
2 Timothy 2.8-15
I wonder if you’ve ever watched I’m a celebrity…get me out of here? Selected celebrities are expected to face things most of us would rather avoid, like putting one’s arm into a tank full of writhing snakes, or handling a tarantula. There is no sum of money that would induce me to put my arm into a tank of snakes and neither would I be too enamoured about spending the night in a rat-infested cellar.
We all have our limits. Some of us reach those limits more quickly than others.
For some, it’s about phobias or fear, but for others it’s about status. There are those who would never perform menial tasks because they would consider those menial tasks to be beneath them and conversely there are those who would never perform up-front public tasks because they wouldn't consider themselves to be important enough to stand above other people.
Some people have honesty limits and some do not. Some declare every penny on their income tax returns because their honesty compels them to do so. Others aren't above ignoring the odd bundle of savings stashed away here and there in some little known account, as long as they aren't spotted.
We all have our limits. Each of us a limit. They’re all different, but we all have them. Sometimes we might be surprised by them, in our selves or others, but we all have our limits. If you saw Ann Widecombe on Strictly Come Dancing you might wonder if she has no limits, but we all have our limits.
However, I want to suggest to you that God does not have limits in the same way, perhaps not at all. Where we humans have our limits, God does not.
In today’s Old Testament reading we heard the story of Elisha's healing of Naaman. There are many different things that we could focus upon in this story, but I just want to think about one aspect of it: a foreigner is cured of an incurable disease. God, in his love and healing, works beyond the limits of race, which was unthinkable to the people around when this was written. God also worked beyond the limits of what was then otherwise incurable, which was also unthinkable to the people around when this was written. God, in his love and healing, works way beyond any limits we might think of.
Some time around 800 BC, when Naaman the Syrian army commander discovered that he had leprosy, he was devastated. He searched high and low for a cure for this terrible disease, but none was forthcoming. When his wife's Hebrew slave girl timidly mentioned a famous healer in her own country of Samaria, Naaman was like the proverbial drowning man grabbing at a straw. He prepared his entourage of slaves and luggage, horses and chariots and expensive gifts, and set off for the long journey to Samaria and the prophet Elisha.
He expected to be treated with dignity and respect or, at the very least, with common courtesy. But Elisha the prophet was no respecter of persons and had no time for pomp and ceremony. He made it clear how little regard he held for Naaman by not even appearing in order to examine Naaman and ascertain his condition. But he did care for him as a human being in need, for he simply sent a somewhat off-hand message instructing Naaman to swim in the filthy waters of the Jordan river.
Who knows what else was swimming in the Jordan? Who knows what hidden dangers lurked beneath its surface? Who knows what infection Naaman might pick up from the dirty water? And Naaman, moreover, had come from Damascus where the mountain springs produced rivers which were noted for their crystal-clear purity.
Naaman had his limits, like the rest of us He had almost reached them when he was treated with such disdain by Elisha, but the thought of bathing in the murky waters of the Jordan was the limit beyond which he would not go. Besides, the chances of such a dirty river curing a disease which was untouched by the purest of spring waters were remote.
In outrage and disappointment he turned to go home, for it was clear that the prophet was nothing but a quack and his remedies were nothing but wishful thinking. But Naaman was clearly a good man, for he was sufficiently liked and respected by his slaves for them to approach him with real concern for his welfare. And they dared to be honest with him by pointing out his character weakness, his desire to be highly regarded. Amazingly, Naaman listened to them and had enough humility to take on board what they were saying. So, he washed in the Jordan as instructed and his leprosy was healed.