Friday, July 1, 2016

Hard Things

2 Kings 5:1-14
Life is hard. It’s a phrase we hear often, or at least various versions of those words. “My life is hard.” “Adulting is hard.” “Being a kid is hard.” “being a parent is hard.” “breathing is hard today.” When I get overwhelmed by the whole life being hard thing, I remember a sign that my 4th grade teacher had in her room. It read “We can do hard things.”
We can do hard things. Each and every day we stumble, struggle and pull our way through hard things. I think some of that fight is what keeps me motivated. It’s hard, but once it’s done I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, I’ll know I’ve “made something of myself.”
In today’s scripture lesson there are some people who do some hard stuff. But they are not the ones we tend to focus on. This story is remembered as the time Naaman took a bath, at least by those of us who learned it as small children. The message to me was always “Be clean, be pure, be obedient.” Funny how as an adult those are not the truths I find in this passage at all.
In fact, the more time I’ve spent looking at the scripture the more I realize that it’s not really so much about Naaman, as it is about those around him.
Scripture tells us Naaman is a “big man on campus” sort of fellow. He is a warrior for the king of Aram, enemies of the Israelites, by the way. He is the right hand man of the king and things are going well for him, except for one small problem. He has leprosy.
Leprosy is the name given in biblical times to all sorts of skin diseases, from eczema to flaky skin to rashes to the disease as it is known today. According to the Israelite tradition, Naaman would have been exiled from the community until he was healed. But remember, he’s not an Israelite! These same rules don’t apply. He’s continued about his work, but he is getting fed up with this issue.
The more he complains and suffers, the more his household becomes unnerved, to the point where a young slave girl, one from Israel, gets the nerve to speak up and offer a new plan of action.
What a brave, hard thing she did! She spoke up for the prophet of her God. She gave voice to the healing powers her homeland proclaimed. She spoke the Lord’s words in a foreign land.
How often do we let words of comfort, encouragement, even healing or salvation die on our tongues because we are afraid of the reaction? How often do we know that healing is available, but don’t offer it out of fear or rejection, fear of humiliation, fear of retribution? It’s hard!  But this girl knew she could do hard things.
After meeting with the king Naaman goes, not to the prophet, but to the King of Israel! That’s how we know Naaman was a big deal, and knew he was a big deal. It’s like approaching the president for an appointment with the presidential dermatologist! It’s over kill. To us it seems hard, but to Naaman it was how things were done. The king had authority in his country, surely this king had the same control over his healers.
After the kings own existential crisis, he sends Naaman on to Elisha for healing. And Elisha refuses to play into this power play. He sends out a servant and says, wash in the river Jordan 7 times, and you will be healed.
No pomp, no circumstance, just a simple bath in a muddy river. It’s a simple thing to do. But Naaman is insulted. Naaman is a big man, and he expects his healing to be a big deal. This simple washing bit is too simple, too beneath him. It’s not the show he’s brought all these goods to pay for!
While life is hard, and can be hard, its often the simple things that trip us up. The simple things like saying thank you when someone holds open a door, or the simple act of passing that kindness onto another. A simple smile or greeting can change a person’s morning, but we too often think of it as wasted energy. The simple acts of a cup of cold water on a hot day, or a meal to eat, even if it’s just a burrito, these are life changing, life giving healing acts. They are simple, and perhaps that’s why we have a hard time doing them.
Naaman does not want to do the simple because it seems like not enough. But God does not turn his back on Naaman, and god does not turn God’s back on us.
God does not leave us bereft of support when tragedy does strike; rather, God employs ordinary people to act in extraordinary ways.
In this cases Naaman’s servants stretch out an olive branch to him. They say “If it had been hard to do you would have done it. What keeps you from trying something so simple?” Naaman realizes he really has nothing to lose, and goes and bathes as instructed. And he is healed.
When Naaman was able to trust, to accept the simple instruction “wash and be clean” he was healed.
He was healed.
He returns giving thanks and praise. He returns asking more about this God who has changed him. He returns to offer thanks and praise. He returns completely healed, a new man, with skin like a young boy.
The slave girl, Elisha, the river Jordan are all set apart, not because they are intrinsically unique, but because God is at work through them, in all their particularity, for the good of Naaman.  For the good of an enemy of Israel.
That’s an oddity. God’s grace extending beyond the chosen people? But it did, and it does. Grace is offered to all. It’s a simple thing really, but we try to make it so hard. God loves the world, not just certain segments of that world. Not just North America, not just the Middle-east, but the world!
So we too are called to love the world. To reach out with these simple gestures of hope, kindness, faith and generosity. Reaching out a helping hand to a member of a different race, culture or religion does not require that one check one’s traditions or faith at the door in the interest of meeting that person on so called “neutral ground.” The slave girl and Elisha are able to help Naaman by drawing on the resources their religion and culture provide, not by setting them aside or kicking them away.
We are called to acts of justice and mercy in response to the grace we have received from God through Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.

Is it hard? It can sure seem that way. And we can do hard things. But sometimes its as simple as a cup and some bread. Sometimes its as simple as a shared meal. Sometimes its as simple as open arms. And we can do simple things too!


  1. Isn't it the truth! We try so hard to make things more complicated than they need to be. Thanks for this reflection.