2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”
So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!
Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.
Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
Today we have two words before us. Both of them telling us what it is to be a prophet in the land. At one end there is the work of Elisha toward Namaan, and at the other the work of the Seventy Disciples in proclaiming the Gospel. Two stories of prophetic action, two stories of the kingdom of God coming near, both with ample lessons for us to take into our lives today. Today we will look specifically at the idea that we are called to be a prophetic voice in the world, to proclaim the good news to all people no matter the circumstances.
We come into Elisha’s ministry shortly after Elijah was taken up to Heaven. Elisha served his predecessor faithfully for quite a while, and the initial transition into his new role was met with some trouble. When he first put on the mantle of the chief prophet of Israel, the other prophets looked to him and acknowledged he was in the full power of Elijah… and then immediately ignored him. “Truly you have been given the Spirit of Elijah… But, could we please go and find him? We would really like him back and we think God might have put him on a mountain.”
Elisha was kind though, and despite what could be perceived as a slight he allowed his followers to look for Elijah. They searched every mountain peak and found nothing, returning to Elisha and admitting that they were wrong to think they could dwell in the past. The future was now, and they were ready to follow him wholeheartedly. At this point, Elisha must have let out a sigh of relief. The hard work of winning over the other prophets was over, and now he only had to keep the king in line. What could possibly go wrong there? Well, it turns out quite a lot. Israel had, after all, been abusing its vassal states and one of them got fed up with being taxed and not getting anything for all that they gave. It was essentially the Coal wars played out in South East Israel. Moab rebelled, and the king was left with no choice but to turn to God.
Elisha helped the king, though he had fallen into idolatry. He called upon God and water sprang up out of Edom, flowing through the camps of the King and equipping his armies to win a victory over their enemies. Elisha would then work among his own people – supplying the necessary supplies for a widow to save her sons from being sold into slavery. He removed poison from food with nothing more than a bit of flour. He multiplied food and fed the hungry. His ministry was challenged from the beginning, yet he pushed through and with God’s aid conquered every obstacle that came his way.
It is this dependence on God that made him strong. He was not a prophet because he spoke well or because he was richer or stronger than anyone else. His ability to prophecy came from God alone. God gave him the authority to preach, to call down miraculous signs, to testify against kings and all authority. Nothing that Elisha did was of his own accord, but everything he did was initiated and blessed by God. This was his strength, and this is what leads us into his encounter with Naaman, general of the Arameans.
Naaman we are told, was given victory by God in a battle – giving him great respect among his people. When he contracted leprosy, a slow death sentence in those days, the king was willing to pay silver and gold equivalent to 3.8 million dollars. Which is a number that is huge on one hand, but on the other isn’t much more than they charge for ambulances now. The King sends this offer to the King of Israel and awaits a response. King Joram, ever a calm and collected soul, goes into full mourning at the idea. Having just barely won a war with the rebellious Moabites – taking everything but their main city – he was not ready for another war. In the eyes of the king, this call to send a healer for Naaman was nothing but a prelude to war. They were looking for an excuse, for anything which the spin doctors in Aram could make into sufficient justification for a war.
Elisha is prepared though, and when he hears of the request he sees it for what it is. He calls to the king and tells him, “Send him to me. Let them see that there is a prophet in Israel.” In other words, “Let them come and marvel at what God has done.” Israel had, at this point, become an overwhelmingly idolatrous nation – especially its royalty. They had plenty of so-called prophets, but none of them were giving any meaningful messages. When Elisha called for them to show, “There was a prophet in Israel,” he would have raised some eye brows. People would have said, “We have our prophets, what do we have to prove?”
But they did prove there was a prophet. Naaman came, and Naaman was healed. Bathing seven times in the Jordan – in a filthy river of mixed salt and fresh water – he was made clean. Having skin that was not only free of disease, but new – like that of someone much younger than he was.
It is here, in the work of Elisha at the Jordan that the work of we in the modern church, and those Seventy Disciples from our Gospel Passage get our lesson. When we of the Church commit ourselves to making an example of our work and to becoming a true sign of God’s work in the world – that is the moment that we become prophets. A prophet is not someone who tells the future – although sometimes they might – a prophet is someone who brings the word of God to the world. We in the church each take on a prophetic voice in the moment we enter into it. Whenever a person is welcomed into the church, we recommit the baptizand and the church to:
“With God’s help… proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. Surround [one another] with a community of love and forgiveness, that [we] may grow in [our] trust of God, and be found faithful in [our] service to others.”
That is a high calling. However, it is one that we have all signed onto. We are to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, that he came and died for us, that we would not only be legally reconciled to God, but be placed in a solidarity with God. God working with us not only so that we could be saved from death, but renewed completely in our resembling of God, that image which we were made in long ago. We live out this image of Christ in acting like Christ. Preaching moves in concert with good works, the two do not overtake one another, they do not compete. The prophet proclaims, but the prophet also acts.
Those who were sent out in our Gospel reading went into the world act and to preach. They were to enter into households and declare they came as agents of peace. Ancient hospitality required that most, if not all, travelers were to be welcomed into your home if they did not do so through force or coercion. Thus, when we read their harsh reaction to being denied it becomes clearer – they asked for common courtesy and were given a door in the face. Those who accepted them were given the chance to hear the gospel, to receive healing and to see wonders. They went forward to prove to the world that once again, “There was a prophet in Israel.”
For those of us in the modern day, we are given more opportunities than ever to push into the world and do good, to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel. We live in a unique period of time, one in which more people from more places than ever living among us. People of all races, cultures, and backgrounds now live among us. We can respond to this in one of two ways – as a threat to the artificial distinctions which we have created for ourselves, or as an opportunity for God to enact God’s work in the world. God’s work not to have a church that looks just one way, prays just one way, speaks just one way – but a church that is open to all people from all corners of the world. People who live together in community, not uniformity.
The mission of the Church today is to enter into those areas which we are not comfortable with. We are to go into areas where we may not be welcome, but we are to enter into them as Christ came into the world. Though we are turned away, we do not respond with anger or with wrath. Those who reject us today may be saved tomorrow, and we leave them to God in the meantime. We go forward in peace, not aggressively. Too often we in the church enter into a situation and start picking fights with people, or respond aggressively to those who are at first apprehensive of us. If we enter a place and act in peace and love, and are rejected then we bear no guilt. If we enter in anger and wanting our own way, then the guilt is on us not our hosts.
If we are willing to work with people, to do good and act as Christ in the world, openly giving God the glory along the way, then we have hope of God’s work being known. The king of Israel was unsure of Elisha when his ministry began – Elisha responded to a general call, not a specific one. “Bring me a prophet of the Lord.” Naaman did not even know the name of Elisha. However, after the miracle of the waters from Edom and the feeding of the hungry and the care for the widow, Elisha was known in Israel. When the time came for someone to heal Naaman on behalf of the King, Elisha gave an order and the king obeyed – such was his influence which his good works had brought him.
We must go into the world as a prophet would. Our face like that of an angel, our desire for God’s glory to be known not for our way to be had or for our own gain. All that gold that was sent to Elisha was turned away; he would not take a piece of it. What he did accept was the words of Naaman, when he saw the work of God, he committed his life to worship of him. His washing in the Jordan was like a baptism for him, washing him of his past life and allowing him to enter into a new one. We too can bring people to the font of baptism, we too can do wonders. We must believe in the God who sends us, and face any opposition well. Let our hearts be clear, our motivations be of God, and our lips and hands be committed to the work of God alone. Let our lives make the world look upon us as say, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel!” – Amen