Uncomfortable voice Naaman was the leader of an army. That’s a position that must be earned through battle, respect, cunning, bravery, strategy. He worked hard to earn his place. Now he has leprosy, a debilitating skin disease. All that he has worked for, all that he is has earned is unraveling. Now he is confronted with an enemy that he can’t fight in battle. He needs a healing that he can’t earn, win, or buy. All of his resources are now useless and the power brokers he might have leverage have nothing for him.
If Naaman were fighting an enemy like the Philistines or the Moabites, he could have turned to his military advisors. If Naaman had been confronted with a political challenge, he could have turned to the Kings magistrates. I can’t imagine another scenario where someone like Naaman would have turned and listened to a young slave girl, captured from their enemy, Israel.
In fact, this captured girl, whose name we are not given, her very presence in this story is a reminder that Naaman is good at his job. It reminds us that in the last confrontation between Israel and Aram, God gave the victory to Naaman and the Arameans and NOT to Israel, God’s chosen people. Her presence in the story confronts us with that uncomfortable past.
This girl gives me more reason for discomfort, even rage. She is captured, against her will, treated as cattle, and yet God uses her in this story to bless her captor. It sets my skin on edge and reminds me of the countless nameless victims in our world whose stories will never be told. I am angry that we have to be confronted with her presence, her witness. But Naaman chooses to listen to her. He gives ear to this uncomfortable voice because he has nowhere else to turn.
And then Naaman follows the slave girl’s instructions. Sort of. Naaman shows up with all his silver and gold and garments and surely his entourage, not at the prophets house but at the palace of the king of Israel. I’m guessing it is quite the diplomatic display. But he can’t impress his way into healing. The King of Israel, says, “I can’t cure you, I am not God.” Finally, Naaman sets off for the prophet’s house.
Naaman, commander of the army of Aram, comes to the driveway of the prophet’s house, which probably has a much lower Air BNB rating than the palace. Elisha sends his servant out to meet him… in the driveway. He is not greeted in a palace or sanctuary but in the driveway of a crazy prophet’s house. This is where he is told to wash in the Jordan River.
The Breaking Point This summer we taught our kids how to swim in the ocean. It’s not much fun when you get caught in the crash of the waves, so we took them out past the breaking point. Beyond where the water breaks they could bob up and down the swells and feel what it is like to float on the salty water. But it took a while before they could build up the courage to swim out past the curl of those waves, past the breaking point.
Being told to wash in the Jordan River, this is the breaking point for Naaman. Look how far out of his comfort zone he has come. Look how uncomfortable he is: listening to slave girls, traveling to the driveway of the prophet of his enemies, being given instructions by a servant to go and wash in the river that parted for these Israelites to come and invade their land. Enough! That is the breaking point. Naaman blows up and he is done.
He could have walked away with his pride intact and no one would have blamed him. Who would ask the commander of the Aramean army to bath in the Jordan River? Who would expect someone like Naaman to do something so undignified? He could have returned to Aram where he is respected and surrounded by respectable people and died a slow and painful death.
But he gets one more opportunity to turn and listen to uncomfortable voices. His own servants come to him and beg him to listen to the prophet of his enemy, to go and wash in the Jordan. The slave girl, the servant of Elisha, and now his own servants are begging him to turn and trust the power of the God of Abraham and Sarah of Isaac and Rebeccah, of Jacob and Rachel – the God who parted those Jordan waters so that Naaman’s enemy could walk through and possess the land.
What’s he got to lose? His dignity? His respect? His status? His reputation? What does all that matter when he has this disease? Naaman listens. He listens to the uncomfortable voices of his servants. He listens to the very people who are supposed to listen to his orders. He baths and he becomes clean like a young boy. Finally, he confesses, “Now I know there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”
Undone by uncomfortable voices When we think we have it all together, we don’t need to listen to voices that make us uncomfortable. Why do we wait until we have nothing left to lose? When we have it all together, we only listen to the voices that tell us what we want to hear.
Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone rocked the sociology world 20 years ago when he demonstrated how Americans once bowled in bowling leagues and participated in organizations, like churches and clubs when the populations they were living with were much more homogenous. But now that or world is changing so quickly and the people who might show up to the bowling league seem so very different, most Americans prefer to bowl alone, maybe with their family members or a few close friends, but they don’t want to join leagues where they have to be with all kind of people they might not like.
Organizations that study church trends are trying to figure out the decline of the midsized church. It seems that people either want to be in a small church, that is like family and everyone you worship with is very much like you. Or they want to be at a big church or even a mega church where you can slip in pretty anonymously and slip out unnoticed and if you want to get involved you can join a nitch group like a small group for young singles or a coffee group for retired men, etc. You don’t have to really spend time with, do life with people that are much different. Perhaps at least part of this decline can be attributed to the fact that we don’t much like having to hear from voices that make us uncomfortable.
Luke 4 When Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke chapter 4, people are amazed at his teaching, he is a hot shot preacher who might just bring the millennials back to church, read about competent criminal defense lawyers in San Diego. But then Jesus reminds them that of all the lepers in Israel God healed Naaman the Aramean. The story of Naaman is an uncomfortable story reminding that the salvation God is bringing takes them to uncomfortable places to hear from uncomfortable people. And they try to kill him. They hit their breaking point.
You can’t earn your healing from sin. You can’t win your salvation. You can’t buy your transformation. You can’t cling to the perception that you have it all together. God wants to take you past the breaking point.
What if our salvation and continual conversion – not only for the outsider like Naaman, but the longtime church member – is tied up with uncomfortable voices that push us past the breaking point? We need to be in fellowship with people who are quite different than us. This is true for everyone, but particular for people who have a great deal of power, like Naaman and like me.
What do we have to lose? Life beyond the breaking point, that’s where the fullness of salvation lies.