First Mennonite Church
December 4, 2016
Story of Naaman, Elisha and Gehazi
Text: 2 Kings 5: 1-27
The story of the healing of Naaman in 2Kings is the most fascinating in the entire book. In the story we find drama, a diverse cast of characters, irony, turns and twists. Among the characters we find a captive girl, a war-hero, a panicky king, a greedy servant, and a selfless prophet. Naaman is a Gentile high-ranking military officer in the service of the Aramean king. Yet, with all his greatness he is leprous, an illness for which the patient is stigmatized and, most often, the illness leads to certain death. Naaman is desperate to get help. Among the Israelite captives brought into the land of Aram from an earlier raid is a young girl. She is familiar with the reputation of a prophet in Samaria. She tells her master about Elisha who can help him and her story reaches the king. The king, aware of the antagonism between his country and the people and king of Israel, proceeds to write a diplomatic letter and prepare a generous gift cargo to send along. However, when the king of Israel reads the letter, he gets furious and suspicious of the letter’s intent. “This is only an excuse to make war against me. Am I God to kill and then bring back to life?” he argues. It is obvious the king is unfamiliar with what the girl knows about Elisha. Somehow, Elisha finds out the king is panicking over the request of the foreign visitor. Elisha sends a message to the king inquiring about the reason of his distress (the king had torn his clothes in desperation). So, Naaman and his entourage come to Elisha’s house. Naaman had envisioned the prophet would come out and welcome him, raise his hands to God and pray over him to get healed. But, when Naaman arrives at the front of Elisha’s house, Elisha only sends instructions to Naaman through Gehazi. The instruction is simple: go dip yourself seven times in the Jordan River and be healed. Naaman is not happy. He had envisioned the prophet performing a ritual.
The reaction of non-church people when I offer to pray for their sick or concerns is sometimes interesting to watch or hear. Very recently, a gentleman was telling me about his soon being without a job. He was telling about how far he has to commute in order to keep his current job, and now it was closing down. “I will remember to pray for your situation,” I promised. He looked at me with a blank look as if he did not know what I was talking about. Another incident was when someone asked me to pray for his business. This person was new to the area and had found out the Mennonites were the first owners of the land he bought. He was offering a gift to the church if I would go over and “spread some of the positive energy” I have. But the most interesting thing I have been told regarding prayers for the sick happened when I went to visit and pray for someone in the hospital. I was told that at the moment I stepped in the hospital room where the patient was that she started to move. And so the caretaker said to me, “I will leave you so you can do your ‘hocus pocus.’”
Grudgingly and after the insistence of his servants, Naaman accedes to go and dip himself in the River Jordan. But once he sees his skin disease gone, he is overwhelmed with gratitude towards the man of God. And it is here where I want us to see how religious talk is transformed into true confession of faith.
Verse 11 reads: But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! You see, as far as Naaman is concerned, his healing is supposed to come from Elisha’s God. Naaman is, up to this moment, not embracing that God. But upon being healed, Naaman’s relation to the God of Elisha changes. Naaman confesses: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. . . .” Naaman directly associates his healing to the powerful act of the God of Elisha. Naaman is convinced there is no other God in all the earth except in Israel, the God who Elisha serves. Naaman then proceeds to offer a lavish gift to Elisha for the miracle of his healing. But Elisha responds, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused. Naaman is not yet done with only a confession of faith; he commits to never more offer sacrifices to the gods of his land. However, Naaman realizes that the God who healed him dwells in the land of Israel. So, he thought to himself, “If I could only take along some dirt from this country where the healing God lives, I will be able to access and worship the God of this land.” For that reason he makes a request. He asked for permission to take home two mule-loads of Israelite dirt so he would create a holy space where he could worship the God of the Israelites.
When I was in my early 20s there was a famous Puerto Rican preacher. He came once to a town near where I lived. Most, if not all, evangelical churches were closed that weekend in order to attend the open air services where this preacher would pray for the sick. And for those who could not attend these healing services, the preacher offered the “anointed handkerchiefs.” Those who were sick were asked to request for these “anointed” cloths and to send an offering too. The sick were supposed to put this cloth under their pillows or wrap it around the sick part of their body in order to get healed. For many, the preacher, not God, was the one who dispensed the power to heal. Therefore, the preacher could determine the medium to bring about healing to those who believed. For some it is the “lucky charm” these healers offer. For Naaman, it was possible if he worshipped and prayed on Israelite soil, even if it were two mule-loads of dirt from Samaria.
Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, was witnessing the interaction between his master and Naaman. Gehazi thought his master was being too easy on Naaman for not accepting the generous gifts. Therefore, shortly after Naaman set off to go back home, Gehazi thought it was his turn to get something in return for his master’s service. Gehazi even uses the name of the Lord for his wicked scheme: “As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something out of him” (v. 20). So he ran after Naaman and when Naaman stopped his chariot to inquire the reason of Gehazi’s trailing after him, Gehazi lied. He told Naaman that Elisha had changed his mind. Gehazi said that due to unexpected guests Elisha now desires a modest gift for his services. Gehazi made his lie credible. He only asked for two sets of clothing and a talent of silver. Naaman continued to be generous and offered Gehazi to take two talents of silver and Naaman even had the items delivered through his servants.
There are lessons we can learn from Gehazi. The first is that one lie can lead to another. Gehazi first lies to Naaman and then he wants to lie to Elisha. When Elisha inquired where he had been, Gehazi says, “I have gone nowhere. I have been here all the while.” But Gehazi could not lie to Elisha due to his powerful insight. And while Naaman goes home blessed for having a curse removed from him, the gifts, (Heb. Berakah) literally “blessings” that Gehazi could not resist turned for him into a curse. The leprosy of Naaman fell on him and was to go down to his descendants.
Another lesson we can learn is the difficulty there is to balance the relationship between faith and money. We should not be too hasty in judging Gehazi’s actions. For many, if not all of us, there is not a day that passes without our thinking or being concerned about matters of money. We are always mindful of how we would spend, save, give, or invest the money we have. We wonder what opportunities we might have to save a little here and there or get more money. We wonder when or which opportunities we might have missed. And that was precisely what moved Gehazi to do what he did. He wondered what good gifts his master had denied himself by refusing to take something from the hands of Naaman.
It does not take much to realize there could be certain aspects of a Gehazi Syndrome in us: that desire to take advantage of a good opportunity of getting something for free. The idea of getting something for free was too much for Gehazi to pass up. Elisha did not do anything, except to tell Naaman what to do, and neither did Gehazi do anything to be compensated for or at least to merit a gift.
When it comes to our faith and faithfulness in handling money and material things we should first begin with the realization that God’s gifts are free and priceless. It is true that money can accomplish many things and as a matter of fact, very good things. But God owns everything and he gives us what is necessary. He does not sell to us the most important things we need. Life is a free gift from God. Health is priceless. His love and care are all free.
There is something we should be mindful of at the moment we are struggling with questions of money. God’s grace is sufficient and free for us. God will provide and empower us to find a way out of our situations when money seems not enough.
This story should make us rethink: is what I do in service to others or to God for my own profit, whether money, status or approval? This story is also a lesson and invitation to keep our motivations straight when doing something for others. May God free our spirit from the love of money. May God grant us a spirit like Elisha’s to be faithful and selfless. May God take away our burdens as he did to Naaman and fill us with a conviction of his grace and power. Amen.
Let us pray:
God of all good gifts, we give you thanks for life, good health, and your love. This morning I pray that you free us from selfish motivations in what we do. Help us to be content with what we have and to trust in you in our times of need. Thank you for giving us the most important gift, your salvation in Christ Jesus. In his Holy name. I pray. Amen!