Not the Way We Imagine

She couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between General and Mrs. Namaan.  As she was putting her lady’s clothes back in the trunk after washing them, Mr. Namaan entered the room.  He began pacing the floor, back and forth, back and forth. He looked like he was about to jump out of his skin. She could sense his anguish. “I can’t go on like this,” he said to Mrs. Namaan. “I can’t continue to live with this disgrace, this scourge, this discolored skin. I’m a decorated five star general, yet I’m a social outcast.  And the itching. It drives me crazy. I can’t believe none of the healers in Aram can do anything to cure this.” She just listened as she went about her work. And the General and  his wife went off to dinner.

She thought about the General’s situation a lot. About his desire to be healed. She recalled hearing about a man back in Samaria, a prophet who healed folks others couldn’t. But should she mention it?  After all, she’s just a slave in their home, captured by the Aramean army during one of their raids in her country. She should be furious, plotting revenge or even escape. But the Namaans treat her well enough. And she has confidence that God can use her in this place much like God used Joseph in the court of Pharoah. But would the Namaans even listen to her— a girl, a slave, a Jew? As she helped Mrs. Namaan prepare for sleep that night, she casually mentioned that back in Samaria there is a prophet who has healed folks others couldn’t help. “Perhaps your husband might want to try to reach him and see if he could cure his disease,” she said hesitantly.

Well, before she knew it Mr. Namaan’s servants were packing up all sorts of fancy clothes and chests full of silver and gold. “Where are you going,” she asked the male servants. “To Samaria to see a healer. We’re taking all of these gifts so that even though we defeated them in a war, the Israelites will realize that we come in peace. And Mr. Namaan has a letter of introduction from our king to the king of Israel. The letter says that Namaan comes seeking a cure for his healing.

“Wow,” she thought. “The suggestion of a little slave girl from Samaria has the palace in a flurry preparing to go in search of the prophet.” She realized then that folks will go anywhere, do anything, and sacrifice everything to get healing and relief from their pain—whether it’s physical, emotional or spiritual. There’s a desperation we feel when we are not well and at peace; when we are physically ill and aren’t getting any solutions;  when we are worried about what the future may hold; when we are in emotional pain because of disappointments in life. Instead of traveling to Samaria to a prophet, we might know of people who have traveled to Mexico to seek treatments not approved in our country. Or people who self-medicate with food, with alcohol, with drugs, both prescribed and illegal, just to escape all sorts of pain and anguish. We will do anything to feel better, to feel whole, to feel well.

The entourage left the General’s home; there was no news for weeks. She was on edge. If this trip to the prophet was unsuccessful, would she be punished.  Mrs. Namaan paced the halls waiting for her husband’s return or for word by way of a messenger.

Finally weeks later the group of travelers returned. General Namaan came bouncing into their home with a joyous smile on his face. “I’m cured,” he shouted with glee.  “I’m cured.” Mrs. Namaan jumped up and down and danced around the room with relief and with absolute delight. “Tell me all about it,” Mrs. Namaan begged.  “Ok, but first I have a load of soil from Samaria that I want to unload in the back of the house.  I’ll explain later.”

She didn’t waste any time going out to the servants’ quarters to hear what happened. She found Cyrus, Namaan’s servant.  “Tell me everything,” she asked.  And Cyrus began to relate the series of events that led to Mr. Namaan’s healing.  “We arrived at the palace of the king of Israel,” Cyrus began, “and presented the letter and the gifts.”  “But when the king read the letter, he misunderstood. He though HE was supposed to do the healing and knew he couldn’t. So he was terrified that his inability to heal Mr. Namaan would result in more wars. Someone in the palace must have tweeted about the misunderstanding, because a messenger from a man named Elisha arrived very soon. The messenger invited Namaan to come and meet the prophet he was seeking.”

“Luckily we hadn’t unloaded the chests of silver and gold or the clothes. So we quickly got on the horses and drove the chariots to the home of Elisha. This healer, Elisha lived in a really simple, humble place, not anything like this mansion. Almost immediately a servant came out with a message. Elisha said that in order to cure his leprosy and be made clean, the General should go wash in the Jordan River seven times. I could see Namaan’s blood begin to boil.  His face turned red with rage. He sputtered and spit and muttered all sorts of language I can’t repeat, cause you’re a lady and all.  General Namaan began walking around in circles like a wild animal. ‘Well, I never!’ he exploded. ‘I came all this way to see the prophet and he sends his messenger to greet me. Does he not know that I am Namaan, a five star general in Aram, sent here by the king himself?  I expected more than this. He should have greeted me and offered me food and drink. I expected a grand ceremony during which he’d pray to his God and then touch my diseased spots to heal me. And what did I get? A messenger.  And an order to dip in the Jordan seven times. Well if dipping in water was all it took, I could have done that in Damascus, where the rivers are much cleaner than the muddy, yucky Jordan.’  ‘Pack it up, boys, we’re leaving,’ he demanded. ‘This has been a royal waste of time and energy.’”

Expectations. They are our attempt to control the future.  I suspect that we’re all a bit like Namaan. When we pray for healing, or pray for anything actually, we have expectations that things will go a certain way—our way. And when they don’t, we lose faith in the power of prayer and in God’s power to heal. When things don’t go as we expect, we lose faith that God is able to answer our prayers, to save us and make us whole and at peace with ourselves, each other and with God.  Namaan’s pride and his expectations for how Elisha would heal him hampered God’s power to work.

“I couldn’t stand it,” Cyrus continued. “I absolutely couldn’t imagine going home just because the meeting with the prophet and the procedure for healing wasn’t exactly like snooty old, egotistical Namaan imagined. I was tired of his ego and his demands. He was trying be the general in charge of God. So I gathered up all my courage and went to him. I said, ‘Master, with all due respect, if the messenger had given you instructions to do something really hard and complicated, you would have done it, right?  So why don’t you at least try to do what he told you. What could it hurt?’”

“Cyrus, that was so brave of you and so very wise,” she interjected.

“I was surprised that he actually listened to me,” Cyrus confessed. “Namaan looked at me, at all of us, then turned, and walked towards the Jordan. We watched as he peeled off layers of clothes, humbling himself, making himself vulnerable and open to God. Then he walked into the water. He went down and came up one time. And then a second. Still the diseased skin was there. I was afraid he’d give up at that point. But he kept going. Three, four, five.  Are the patches of rash getting smaller? Six, seven.  Namaan came up out of the water and walked to the shore with skin that looked like that of a child. What a miracle it was! What rejoicing we all did!

Namaan had almost lost out on healing. Praying with expectations for specific answers and results from God puts us at risk to lose a whole lot. When we 21st century Namaans let our pride and need for control form expectations about how prayers are answered, we run the risk of losing out on God’s amazing possibilities for our lives. When we have the courage and faith to drop our expectations, to humble ourselves and trust in God, we open the door to possibility. When we stop expecting only certain things from God, we enable God to do some divine work in our lives (Mulligan 14).

Namaan went back to the prophet Elisha and told him that he was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only God is the God of Israel.  He tried to pay the prophet, but Elisha refused payment.  And then Namaan did the strangest thing. He asked if he could have a couple loads of earth to take home to Aram so that even at home he could worship the God of Israel on the soil of Israel. The prophet agreed, so we began digging and loading up the mules with the holy ground of Israel.

“That’s quite a story,” she said. I can’t believe that God’s healing happened because some of us servants, including Elisha’s servant, spoke up and presented some of the possibilities of God to Mr. Namaan.

Namaan learned that healing often comes in ways we least expect it. And healing doesn’t often happen in dramatic and sudden ways. It more often comes in small, subtle ways. A little skin improvement with each dip in the water. And sometimes it’s hard to notice those small, almost imperceptible bits of healing that happen one dip in the water at a time. So our job is to give up control, to trust God to work through us and in us. Our task is to be observant and attentive for the little bits of healing in our lives, for the small ways in which prayers are answered. To notice the slight leanings toward forgiveness. To recognize the peace we feel that wasn’t there a week ago. We are also called to notice those bits of healing and those answered prayers in those around us and affirm them. “I notice that you are less anxious and more at peace today,” we might say. “I see that you are able to walk 10 steps further today than last week.”

Namaan’s story teaches us that God’s answers to our prayers and God’s work for our good happens in God’s way and on God’s timetable. All we have to do is trust in God, set aside our expectations, and allow God to do the mysterious, divine work in us that God wants to do. All we have to do is be attentive to the ways God is working to heal us, transform us, and make us whole. And then just like Namaan, we will rejoice in God’s power and mercy. We will proclaim with the psalmist, “God has turned my mourning into joyful dancing. God has clothed me with joy, that I might not be silent but rather sing praises to God.”

Works Cited

Mulligan, Mary Alice. “Preaching Word and Witness.” Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, February

15, 2009. Vol. 09:2 (B) New Berlin, WI: Liturgical Publications, Inc. 11-14.

 

February 11, 2018      Becky Fuchs

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