UpFront with Mary Hendricks, 10/09/2016

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

October 9, 2016

2 Kings 5:14-17

You’re getting only the end of the Naaman story from today’s first reading. How about you read the whole fifth chapter of 2 Kings? It’s one of my favorites, and it’s only about a page long. But, spoiler alert! Here’s the backstory.

Naaman is a well-respected army commander from Syria, a country constantly in conflict with Israel. A righteous man, he is a favorite of his king, but he has one little flaw. He is a leper. Although he is not a Jew and isn’t bound by the strict laws regarding lepers, Naaman is considered unclean by the Syrians. He’s such a good guy, that even the young Israelite slave girl he has captured on one of his raids likes him. She tells Naaman’s wife, “If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” That prophet is Elisha.

Naaman’s wife convinces him that he can be cured, so his king sends a letter to the king of Israel, asking him to cure Naaman. The Israeli king immediately becomes suspicious, thinking that the Syrian king is starting another war because he can’t fulfill this impossible request. Elisha hears about the letter and tells the king to send Naaman to his house.

When Naaman arrives on his horse and chariot, Elisha doesn’t even come outside. He sends a messenger to tell Naaman, “Tell him to go wash seven times in the Jordan River, and he will be healed.”
Naaman is furious. First of all, the prophet doesn’t even show his face, even though Naaman has traveled hundreds of miles to see him. He was expecting fanfare and, possibly, a magic wand for his great healing. And there are plenty of rivers much greater than the Jordan to wash in. He’s ready to go back home when his servants beg him: “Wait! It’s no big deal! Just do what the guy says.”

Reluctant but desperate, Naaman dips himself in the dirty river seven times. His flesh became “again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” He is so impressed that he promises to worship only the God of Israel for the rest of his life.

We could talk about Naaman’s attitude about his cure or his gratitude after his healing, his arrogance and his epiphany. But you get it. So let’s talk about something else: that little slave girl.

Unnamed in the story, she was wrenched from her family by marauders, far from her homeland, and forced to serve a foreign mistress. She is probably a teenager, and if you know any teenagers, you know they can be difficult to deal with at best. Teenage girls? Phew. Get thee behind me, Satan.

And, yet, she is a sweetheart. She is compassionate and kind to her captors by letting them know that her master can be healed. She hasn’t forgotten the faith she learned at her mother’s knee. The God of Israel is greater than any Syrian general, greater than any disease. She believes so much in the power of her God, that she is even willing to risk her life by speaking out and telling the Naaman household about her God and his prophet Elisha.

That is bravery at its finest.

Because of her, two kings and a famous military commander were involved and were motivated to take action. Because of that little slave girl.

The next time you feel “little,” think of her. Let her inspire you to be brave. Maybe whisper a prayer for her intercession.

No one in God’s kingdom is little. We all can do great things. Speak out. Take the risk. The King, our King, is listening.

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