Oct 9, 2016
2 Kings 5
Raleigh Mennonite Church
I knew it was only a matter of time before Tom and Malcolm were hit by a car. The brothers live up the street from us. Almost every day, shortly after one of our family vehicles pulls into the drive, I see the boys, nine and eleven, leap from their porch and onto their bikes. A smooth, long hill leads from their house at the top of the hill to our house at the bottom. But you have to cross one road to reach our front door.
It’s that road that always scares me. The boys seem to pay attention for oncoming cars but I always hold my breath as they near the intersection, as they careen through the stop sign.
Etta and I were getting out of the car when this familiar scene played out. I turned just in time to see Tom riding his bike, Malcolm standing on the pegs behind him. Tom couldn’t see. He couldn’t see the white car driving down Englewood.
There was a screech and a loud thump as I watched the car swipe the front of the bike where Tom was sitting. The white sedan smashed into his left leg.
This week I’ve been thinking about little lives, lives that pass by without much notice, lives like Tom’s, lives that declare their smallness, lives that are fragile in their smallness.
We hear about a life like this in the Scriptures today. It’s a life that passes by if we don’t look for it, if we don’t pay attention.
Namaan, is a wealthy, well-connected military general from Aram. And he has a humiliating problem. He’s got a horrible skin disease. It probably looked bad, itched terribly, and made it embarrassing for him to be in the company of others especially as an important person in his country.
We learn that in one of their recent military campaigns Namaan’s armies took some of the people as slaves. One of them was a little girl. In the original Hebrew, the verses emphasize how small she is, small of size and small of importance. She’s a “little little girl,” a nameless slave from a conquered people. Surprisingly, she speaks up. She turns to Namaan’s wife with a possible solution to his skin disease. “O, that my master was with the prophet in Samaria, then he would be healed.”
And then she seems to disappear from the story. She is given just one line, one sentence bravely spoken to the mistress of her house. It’s more than a request. It’s a longing, a desire for healing, healing for a military general who ripped her from her family, enslaved her, brought her to a land far from her home where her future is dim.
We have no idea why she responds this way, why the little little girl doesn’t leave Namaan to wallow in his sores.
We aren’t told anything about her story. The narrative moves on, doesn’t give us time to wonder. What happened to her family? Were they murdered in front of her? Were they, too, taken as slaves, a family torn apart by a politics outside their control? Was she afraid? Did she cry at night? Was she seven or eight or nine? Did she still play make believe games in those moments between carrying pans and gathering firewood? Did she gather scraps of cloth and cornhusks for make shift dolls?
The story passes by her without dwelling on any of these questions. The story moves on to more important things. Namaan hears of the little little girl’s exclamation. And, in his importance, goes about seeking his healing the way important people do. He relies on his connections to get him into Israel, a letter from his king to the king in Samaria. He gets payment ready – gold, silver, and expensive clothing. Namaan goes where important people go. Powerful people do powerful things, so he goes to the king of Israel assuming that’s where he’ll get this miraculous healing.
Of course, it isn’t the king who can help Namaan. It’s an easily excitable, kind of angry, bald-headed prophet who won’t even bother to come out to deliver a message to the great and majestic Namaan. That’s who has the power to offer God’s healing, not the king.
Namaan is mad and he’s about the get madder. The instructions from the prophet for this healing are not, as he anticipated, some hocus pocus, waving of hands. Instead Namaan is to bathe in the sewage filled waters of the Jordan.
As we enter this story we find that we think we’re being taken in one direction only to discover the prophet turning us around and telling us to go the opposite way. We read this text standing in the shoes of Namaan. He’s gone about this the way important people do. Namaan does what he knows. He employs the bluster of kingly affairs, pompous parades, cash gifts, and diplomatic exchanges.
Here at the end, he’s stripped of all of this. He’s reduced to a naked, scabby mess of a human being, bathing in a polluted river.
What comes out of the Jordan, what emerges, we find, is a person with skin like a child, with skin that looks like a little child. The Hebrew text offers hints, helping us along, using the same word to describe both the reborn Namaan and the little little girl who initiates this healing story. He has put on her skin. His body is like her body. All this time, God was turning the story back to the one we and Namaan passed over, the one we disregarded – a nameless slave child, a very little girl.
The ancient Jewish Rabbis have a saying. “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Namaan sees importance in political connections and wealth. And he learns that the God of Israel is the God to whom all are precious. God sees as God is.
I wonder if, standing naked on the river bank, wiping away the stinking mud, if Namaan realized that God loved him. I wonder if he found that his life meant something to God, that God loved him, all by himself. I wonder if, stripped of wealth and power, Namaan came to know that he was as precious as a little little slave girl.
This morning the street outside my house is quiet. The ambulance and fire engine are gone. There’s no trace of the crash that happened earlier this week. I’m thinking again about Malcom and Tom, how their little lives, so insignificant in light of the power and wealth of our world, how their lives are so precious to me, so precious to God.
When I heard that horrible crash, Tom’s scream, I started to run. It was instinct. I left everything in the street outside my car – my purse, my groceries, even my two-year old. I turned and I ran towards Tom.
And God is like that to, leaving everything behind to run after you, leaving her own child in the street to get to you. God does not see things as they are. God see things as God is. And when God sees you, when God sees the smallness of your life, when God sees you stripped of everything, with nothing left, God sees a beloved. God is always leaving everything behind and running towards you.
What we learn from Namaan is that wealth and privilege obscure belovedness. We learn that we try all the time at self-improvement, at putting on things to make us more loveable, worthier of love. It is only in the stripping, in the leaving everything behind on the shore of the Jordan, it is only when there is nothing else that could possibly give him worth that Namaan discovers he is truly loved, just as he is. This is the real healing miracle of the story. He is loved like a little girl, a slave, loved immensely, without measure, simply as he is. There is nothing he can do or own or say that could decrease or add to this love.
When I think about my children playing with the boys up the street I remember the precious things they manage to find and collect. Acorns and leaves, berries and empty containers, bright pieces of plastic, old beads. I’m always surprised by the things that children find interesting, the things in which they take delight. I can’t always see. And children help me look closer, to see things not as they are but as God is. Maybe that’s what the little little slave girl in today’s story saw when she saw Namaan – past the sores, past the wealth, seeing instead as God saw Namaan, seeing someone precious.
Because God is like this, too. God sees you, nothing more or less than you. God sees as God is. And God sees beloved.