For those who want a change from the Gospel
Trinity 17 – 2 Kings 5:1-17 (Related)
Last week in the church I attend we restarted the invitation to prayer ministry at the Eucharist, a practice which here, and I suspect in many churches, has gone by the board during the Covid lockdown, and which is either being forgotten or reinstated with some hesitancy. Our readings today consider two incidents of healing, both of people with leprosy, one by the prophet Elisha and the other by Jesus. I’d like to consider the first under the guiding question ‘How do I get what I want?’
The answer in our world is, of course, by buying it. The more money we have, the greater our ability to buy everything from food and fuel to education and healthcare. Whilst I feel sorry for all those poor £150,000+ per year earners who had the promise of a pay increase dangled before them only to have it cruelly snatched away within a few days, the fact is that the important people in our society are those with enough money to buy influence. Naaman was such a person, and he was used to the kind of power and authority described in Mt 8:9: he tells people to do something, and they do it. But the one thing he couldn’t command was his own body, which had become infected with leprosy. How was he going to get what he wanted?
He found the route to healing, somewhat unexpectedly, through a servant girl, a real nobody, but a nobody with a story to tell about a somebody. And not just through a servant girl, but also via his wife, another relatively unimportant person in that culture. Nevertheless Naaman hasn’t got the message yet, and he sets off laden with riches with which to buy his healing. He goes, quite naturally given his status, to the King. Elisha hears and intervenes before warfare breaks out, but again Naaman is disappointed at the offhand reception he gets from Elisha, and the undramatic and seemingly unhygienic method of his healing. At this point his pride almost costs him his healing, but it is another group of servants who persuade him to suck it up and do what he has been told (for a change). The healing ensues, and again his mindset leads him to try and pay for it. Finally he gets it, and asks for a gift instead, which will enable him to worship the God he has come to see is the true God. he has received not just a new body, but a new Lord into the bargain.
Throughout this story there is a thread about power and humility, a thread which we do well to consider. In a world where power, money and influence are believed to get us what we want, and where humility is seen as weakness, the gospel reminds us that humble submission to God is the route to his heart and favour. It has been interesting to consider the contrasts between our late Queen and our former Prime Minister, and to notice which one is held in the higher regard by the greatest number of people. Perhaps the one word-group used most frequently of Her late Majesty during the mourning period was ‘service/servant/serving’. In our story, in spite of her royal status, she has lived far more like the various servants who were able to speak wisdom with humility than the two quarrelling Kings. And people have noticed. Like Matthew’s centurion she knew that she only had authority because she was under authority from a higher King.
I’m guessing that most of those who get to read this blog are not the kind of people to pay higher rate income tax, but this story reminds us of who will eventually get what they want, inheriting the earth and entering with joy into the Kingdom of Heaven. Once again, the Bible invites us to live differently, to act counter-culturally, and not to fall for the lies that earthly power is worth everything. As Neader’s hymn reminds us:
Human pride and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.