2 Kings 5: 1-14

Chances are that Naaman had a pretty good life: prestige, power, respect, wealth, servants, access to the highest authorities of his time and place.  But despite Naaman’s reputation as a warrior and commander, he wasn’t quite acceptable among gatherings of his peers.   Regardless of his accomplishments, he would not have been fully and freely welcome among the royal court and councillors.  His ailment—which the scholar Robert Alter translates as “white disease” rather than “leprosy”—would have cast a long shadow over all his interactions with other people.  In any setting.  His skin ailment, whatever it was, rendered him unclean, unable to entirely participate in the social interactions and ritual gatherings of his people.  Expertise and skill can only get a person so far; cultural prejudice and custom could have blocked him from any further advancement.  (That’s a story we all know or have heard of, even now).

No wonder he demonstrates a willingness to listen to anybody in his search for healing.  Even his wife, conveying the words of a slave girl who was nothing more than booty from recent war raids.  And the word is highly dubious.  A prophet in Israel can help him?  His salvation, his healing, his wholeness lay in an alien land and inferior nation, among people who were recently adversaries.  That’s a stretch; the idea must have been galling.

And what a laughingstock he would be if the effort failed!  His reputation might never recover.

Being a strategic thinker, he calculated that potential benefits outweighed the risks.  But things did not go as planned.  Only the first step worked:  seeking his king’s support for a potential fool’s errand.

In seeking healing Namaan suddenly found himself doing things he had never considered before:

  • Entering hostile territory and approaching a former (and potential) enemy for assistance.
  • Learning that a king of Israel did not keep the prophets of his land at royal court; the spiritual teachers and healers of the nation did not bow to political powers.
  • Enduring the disregard Elisha had for his show of wealth and pomp and prestige. Namaan merited no more that a message carries by a servant.
  • Listening, again, to the urgings and advice of his own servants.

And, finally, doing as he was told and submerging himself seven times in the waters of the Jordan.

Naaman’s physical healing requires transgressing established social and cultural boundaries.  It requires stepping away from pride, conventional roles, and standard assumptions.  It requires listening to the strange, the unexpected, the marginalized.

And, so, may we also listen.  Listen to this strange and unexplored story.  Listen to the “unimportant” and oppressed among us and in our lives.  Listen to the promise of always-expanding healing and wholeness for ourselves and others and the world…when we risk crossing established boundaries that clearly matter little to the Holy One.