Naaman's Health Care Plan, a sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey
Naaman, a general and – from our first reading, from 2nd Kings – “great man in high favor with his king, because by him Yhwh had given victory to Syria,” – was used to one success after another. And so, as he looked in the mirror that fateful morning, and saw the spots growing, he was terrified, more than any battle he had been in. What to do? Leprosy was incurable, a pre-existing condition few will want to treat, he knew. Naaman has no clue, really, except to stand tall and strong, like always, and hope it’s not true.
Enter the mistress of Naaman’s wife, a young Israelite captured in one of Naaman’s border skirmishes. This nameless indentured servant-girl knows something the mighty Commander doesn’t – where the power of healing comes from: “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria,” she says referring to Elisha. “He would cure him of his leprosy.”
So, the next morning, the Commander marches into the office of his king: I have an idea, he says, barely conscious of his theft. I know this guy, this prophet-healer, who lives in the Podunk hill country across the Jordan River. If you send me there, I can check him out, get these spots looked at.
Why yes, says the king, I’ll even write you a personal recommendation on royal stationary! And if you think it’ll help, I’ll throw in a booty of silver and gold, to send along with you.
And suddenly, the threat of cancelling the Affordable Care Act, now that the General needs help, is off the table, just like that!
If only that were true for us, now, 13 days into the mindless, compassionless government shutdown! While ironically, Obama Care is on its way to enactment, the health and well-being of 10’s of thousands of Women, Infants and Children in Cook County alone, are in jeopardy of going hungry and going without the basics of diapers and formula.
One resourceful mother, Kate Woodsome, explained on her blog: “As a graduate student, I've supported myself the last several years on a combination of part-time teaching, student loans, food assistance, and very careful balancing. WIC was especially important during my pregnancy, as I was trying to stretch out a summer budget while still preparing for the uncertainty that childbirth can bring. And WIC continued to help during some of the scary budget crunches between semesters. …I benefit from a lot of privileges that other WIC parents often don't have, so mine is actually a best-case scenario. [But] I get weary when I hear people urging poor families to simply lift themselves up by their bootstraps,” said Kate. “Just to get from day to day when you are hungry and scared takes extraordinary energy — those bootstraps are already stretched to the max for the task of daily survival.”
It’s interesting that Jesus actually talked about Naaman’s leprosy in Luke’s gospel – and in doing so, gave us, I think, a strong commentary on the importance for funding WIC. It was early on in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus was in Nazareth, his home town, at the very beginning of his public ministry, and he went to synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah: “[the Spirit of YHWH the Lord is upon me”] said Jesus, “he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And all spoke well of him – until he explained, in just bit more detail: “‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” said Jesus. “But the truth is, …there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ …then [those in his home town synagogue] were filled with rage…drove him out of town… to the brow of the hill …so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”
Jesus doesn’t heal everyone. And sometimes he just heals the outsiders. His mission, borrowed from the words of the prophet Isaiah, “is to the poor, the captives, the blind and oppressed,” those who may not even have faith in him.
And so with Naaman, a non-believer. He arrives at Elisha’s house with all his chariots, finery and lavish gifts. But before he can even get close to knocking on the door, Elisha sends a messenger out to meet Naaman and his entourage, for Elisha is rather non-plussed with the General’s celebrity status, or maybe he sees through it, to the Naaman who, in standing in front of the mirror when he is all by himself, is terrified and feels helpless and small.
Elisha’s message to him is direct, and relatively simple: “go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But the River Jordan is not much more than a minor tributary, especially compared to the mighty rivers in the Capital of Syria, and so Naaman is enraged. Hold on, he says, I’ve come all the way here and the prophet won’t see me, won’t give me any kind of a personal blessing, only go down and wash in some muddy old river?! Let’s go home, he says to his people!
But the un-named servants with Naaman, like the un-named Jewish servant girl, perform the creative heavy lifting, talking him down, and reasoning that, “if Elisha had asked something difficult of him, wouldn’t he have done it?” Why not at least try this easy thing? Long story short, Naaman agrees, and when he washes in the River Jordan “his flesh is restored like the flesh of a young boy!”
Naaman the Syrian, who woke up one morning and noticed a growing spot on his nose, almost didn’t get healed, almost didn’t have “his flesh restored.” For Naaman was stubborn. He had farther to go to be healed.
Sometimes we hold each other hostage with our healthcare type games. And sometimes we mistakenly equate sickness with a lack of faith, or a lack of trying hard enough. But for Naaman, the healing was not a result of faith, but more despite its lack! Naaman is sick and frustrated, and probably not just a little bit embarrassed. And it takes the help of his wife’s mistress, and then the little known prophet in Samaria, and finally his own personal servants, to ease him down into the healing waters.
YHWH, the LORD our God, heals and makes whole where God chooses. Jesus simply follows the example of Isaiah and Elisha, giving voice to those usually shut out of the debate, and normally written out of the history books, the servants, humble non-celebrity prophets, and the Women, Infants and Children. Like Jesus and Naaman, we too go down to the River Jordan for a baptismal plunge, as a part of our daily search for healing and wholeness. We wash, and we are anointed, knowing that the power of YHWH is the power that ultimately will save us, and fulfill the resurrection promise of complete wellness.
For dependable health care coverage, we need each other, Servants and Generals; Women, Infants, Children, and Politicians. There is a destructive-faith out there today, a belief that we can’t take care of each other, a force that is driving us apart. The voices of power and privilege are overwhelming the voices of servants and prophets. Which voice are we?
Are we as clear as Jesus, on which passage of the bible we would open to, if we had to declare our mission statement? Do we understand ourselves to be the anointed servants of God, in our baptisms’?
Let us find our voice!