Summary: Epiphany 6: What great sacrifice have we thought we’d need to endure for the faith? We may be inclined to climb mountains... but no need, Christ already climbed Golgatha.
Through the Old Testament lesson today, we are offered a wonderful insight to help us understand what God requires of us. This insight is wrapped in a most interesting story about a soldier named Naaman. He was a valiant warrior who had won many battles for his King. But Naaman had a terrible affliction – leprosy – the scourge of time – inspiring the kind of fear that AIDS does today. Those who knew Naaman must’ve been worried and concerned for him.
Now the Lord provided deliverance from a most unexpected source. A young woman captured in one of the raids became the servant of Naaman’s wife. When this young girl learned of Naaman’s leprosy, she went to the wife. She said, “If the master – Naaman – would only go to the prophet, he would be cured.” So the wife told Naaman what the young girl said, and Naaman told the king and the king let Naaman go see the prophet.
So Naaman left Aram loaded with money and expensive gifts and a letter for the king of Israel from the king of Aram. When Naaman arrived in Israel, he gave the letter from his king to the king of Israel. The letter read, “I’m sending you my servant so that you can cure him of leprosy.” The King of Israel got really angry - he even tore his robes. Now this tearing of the robes business, this was serious stuff. It implied an extreme level of indignation and offense. The Israelite king was thinking stuff like: “The nerve of that man; sending me a letter like this; who does he think that he is; who does he think that I am. He’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”
When the prophet Elisha heard how the king got so upset, he sent word to him. “Listen king, why are you so fired up about this? Send Naaman to me and I’ll take care of his problem.” So Naaman went with his whole entourage to visit Elisha. But instead of meeting Naaman personally, Elisha sends a messenger. The messenger told Naaman, “My master says for you to wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
Well listen, this didn’t go over very well. It was Naaman’s turn to get indignant. He got angry that the prophet would not meet him face to face. And he got angry that the cure that Elisha offered to him was so simple. He went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Aren’t the rivers of my home better than any of the waters of Israel? If I needed to wash, couldn’t I have gone there instead of this muddy creek?” Naaman wanted Elisha to put on a real show for him. He needed to see and hear stuff. So he went off in a rage. That’s where I want to pick up the lesson. Let’s read the rest of the Old Testament lesson together: [read 2 Kings 5:13-14]
During this month, over one million Islamic pilgrims made their way to Saudi Arabia. The occasion was the annual pilgrimage called the Hajj. Islamic faithful who are physically and financially able are required to make the Hajj at least once in their lifetime. Pilgrims wear special clothes to strip away distinctions of class and culture. The goal is to have all stand as equals in the Hajj. The rites are intensely demanding. The pilgrims have to circle the Ka’ba seven times. They have to travel seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa to commemorate Hagar’s search for water. The pilgrims go through incredible difficulties to do the Hajj. Thousands are literally lost and hurt and stampeded to death every year. But those who are adherents of Islam endure this because they believe that God requires it.
I used the example of the Hajj because if you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably noticed that the major networks have invested substantial time to covering this event. But Islam is not the only religious system that teaches it’s people that they have to make some kind of sacrifice to please God. This misconception is popular even within Christianity. The sense that we have to somehow do something big and spectacular to find favor in God’s eyes is certainly common.
Naaman must have been of the same mind. When Elisha told him that all he had to do was to wash in the Jordan, he took it as an affront. He was offended. It was too simple. There has to be something more to this. I find that the same kind of attitude exists in places besides Islam and besides in Naaman’s mind.