Trinity 17 – The healing of Naaman
I have always enjoyed telling the story that we heard today in Tiny Church, as it makes the important point that nobody is too small or insignificant to have an effect. This story hinges around a young slave girl having the courage to speak to her mistress, and in so doing, setting a chain of events in motion. It underlines the saying that I like and have shared with you before – if you think you are too small to have any effect, you have never shared a bed with a mosquito.
Small actions can often have an effect far beyond that which we can anticipate. Often people who are important enough to be interviewed on the news forget that it is important to make sure that your microphone is switched off before saying anything unguarded, and that the contents of a file cannot be seen from the outside before carrying it around London. Jesus underlines this point again in our gospel reading – it is a small thing to say thank you for a favour, and yet only one of the ten lepers who were healed thought to do it. I am sure any of us who have been fortunate enough to have children, have spent many hours training them to remember to say please and thank you!
The young girl in our story today could have been simply thinking aloud – it appears that she was relatively well treated for a captive servant as she was not afraid to do this, but she would never have guessed that she could have been starting an international crisis. Israel seems to have been much weaker that its neighbour Syria, and the consternation at the Israelite court can well be imagined when a renowned general, complete with his armed escort and full entourage turns up with the request from the king of Syria that the general’s skin disease be cured. The king would have known his limitations – and miracle cures were not within his power, meaning that an excuse for Syria to invade could only be the likely outcome.
Fortunately, the bush telegraph was working well, and Elisha heard about the situation, and sent word that Naaman should be sent to him – no doubt to the huge relief of the king. Once again, we can imagine the scene when Naaman with his mounted guard and chariots appeared before the door of the prophet’s house. I have always assumed that the house was fairly modest, although we are not given any details – it does make for a better picture though! Elisha demonstrates very clearly that he is not impressed by horses and chariots however, and simply sends a servant to Naaman with his instructions. It is hardly surprising that a man of Naaman’s standing takes this as an insult, although in fact he has no cause to really. His anger is clear in his response to Elisha’s message: ‘‘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! Are not …. the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’
Once again though, we see that Naaman seems to have been a reasonable man, as just as his wife was prepared to listen to, and act on the words of a captive slave girl, so Naaman was prepared to listen to his servants – who were not afraid to approach him even when he was in a temper. The rest of the story you know, but I do think it is important to note that so much of the outcome could have been very different, had it not been for a couple of people, neither if them significant enough to be given a name, having the courage to speak out.
On Monday of this week, I attended the Diocesan Rural forum in Bagley Baptist Church. The speakers in the morning were interesting, but the afternoon session was given over to people who were doing things in their village communities to show God’s love for their neighbours. One of these speakers was a man called Stephen Wort from Milverton, who has been commissioned as the Hedgerow Chaplain. If you are interested in his work, he writes a monthly blog which I found on the diocesan website called Country Matters. Primarily he leads pilgrimage walks around the area, but he said two things that have stayed in my mind particularly. The first was simply that our church doors lead two ways – both in and out. Perhaps we should think more about whether we should be going out to meet the people rather than trying to get them to come in. The other, which struck me quite forcibly is that we never read of Jesus inviting people to come in to anywhere. The only invitation he gives people is that they should follow him – and yet we read many accounts of him being in people’s homes where he has been invited to share a meal. Is it time we stopped expecting people to come in and join us, but instead we should be making sure that we go out and join them where they are? The important thing though is to make sure that we always take Jesus with us – he always wanted to be with the people who needed him, and somehow I don’t think that has changed. I have always liked the story of the church which had over the door the words, ‘You are now entering the presence of God’. These were not written over the entrance as you might expect, but on the inside for people to read as they were leaving the building.
Could the message for us today be that as we leave this building this morning, not only will we be entering – or remaining – in the presence of God, but also that we will be rejoining God’s people – the people who need to know just how much God loves them. And surely we are the people who need to be telling them.