About Jesus Christ: Chapter 2
TWO LEPERS ARE HEALED & RETURN WITH GRATITUDE
Historically, leprosy has been a feared and dreaded disease. In ancient times, anyone with leprosy was usually completely segregated from family and society. We read about Miriam, Moses’ sister, when she complained about her brother’s leadership. She then became infected with leprosy (Numbers 12), and was ordered to leave the Israelite encampment and live in isolation. In Israel, complete isolation was the proscription for anyone who had leprosy. Because of Moses’ prayer for her, the Lord healed Miriam and she was allowed to reenter the camp. Today, of course, improvements in medicines and treatment have reduced the disfigurement and stigma of the disease.
The ultimate curse for a political or military leader is to be cut off from those you are supposed to direct. That was the case of Naaman, the top commander of the Syrian forces during the reign of Benhadad II. For a long time, Israel (the northern kingdom) had been subject to Syria, or Aram as it is referred to in our Scripture reading. During the reign of Ahab, Israel’s king, the two countries had reached a compromise—a truce with only small border skirmishes that produced periodic tension. Now, Joram, Ahab’s son (about 850 BC), had become king. He does not want to disturb the uneasy truce that is in place. This is the backdrop to our story that we read in II Kings 5.
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. 2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
When Joram received the letter from the king of Syria (Benhadad II), he was truly distressed. He figured that Benhadad was setting him up for a war. He could not imagine anyway to bring healing to his enemy’s top commander. He didn’t want to get into a battle that he was unequipped to win. While the servant girl serving in a foreign land knew about God’s prophet Elisha, apparently the king of Israel did not. That is about to change.
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
Yes, Naaman wanted to be healed, but he wanted to see a big production, too. After all, he was an important military leader. But was it his pride that God was trying to deal with? Was the leprosy just a way to bring humility and reach his soul? If so, the first step was to listen again to his servants as he had done before he began the trip to Israel.
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. 15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.” 16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused. 17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. 18 But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.” 19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.
At the end of this story, we see in Naaman a very changed man. From a pompous and proud general, we see a man asking for permission to take soil from a conquered land. We see a man who relied on his status for respect adopting a new mooring place for his confidence—faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Elisha. We see one who expected to pay for what he received accept his healing with just a thankful heart.
But, as one news commentator often said, that’s not the end of the story. Gehazi had been the servant of the great prophet Elisha for many years. He had seen and heard things that nobody else had. Could it be that the sin of pride had slowly crept into his thinking?
After Naaman had traveled some distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”
21 So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked. 22 “Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’” 23 “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. 24 When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left. 25 When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” “Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered.
Gehazi should have understood that Elisha was able to discern what others couldn’t see. Yet, he saw an opportunity to finally be rewarded for all his faithful service—but at what cost? If you read on in II Kings 5, you will see that Gehazi not only took some of the Syrian’s silver and clothes, he also got his leprosy as a judgment against his actions. Gehazi had missed the importance of God’s teaching of grace. We can’t purchase our healing from God. His restoration is always a free gift.
A Despised Samaritan Provides a Surprise
For religious Jews during the 1st century, Samaria was a foreign land with a despised people. We find many examples in the New Testament of the animosity between the Jewish people and those of Samaria. Maybe you’ve heard this phrase about pride: Pride of face; pride of race; pride of grace. It appears that between these two peoples, at least two of these sources of pride were in play.
To begin with, the Samaritans were only part Jewish by blood. They were a remnant of the group of people who had returned to the land of Israel (between 720 – 650 BC) after having been away in captivity. Earlier, when Babylon overthrew the northern kingdom (Samaria), the Jews were taken to other countries and their land was in turn repopulated with other nationalities. When they were released from captivity, these Jews returned to their former land, intermingled and intermarried, and adopted a hybrid religion, part Jewish, part pagan. So the issues of race and religion had become a solid barrier so rigid that no self-respecting Jew would even talk with a Samaritan.
In our story, Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem from Galilee. Their route was along the border of Samaria. A group of lepers, outcastes to everyone, wanted Jesus to take action on their behalf. We read this story in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 17:
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
You will note the striking similarity between the two accounts of healing or restoration. From both Testaments, the response of the lepers to a command framed the outcome of what each wanted. In the Old Testament, Naaman, the Syrian general, was asked to do something that he found repulsive. The River Jordan was indeed a muddy river and he didn’t want to follow the instructions from God’s prophet.
The Samaritan leper also had a choice to make. With all the cultural baggage between Jews and Samaritans, he was asked to make his way to a Jewish priest to receive healing. Regardless of the thought process each went through, both lepers ended up doing what they were asked to do. To both, it was an expression of submission to a command they recognized as coming from God’s representative. They both had faith that if they followed through, they would be healed.
So Jesus tells the Samaritan, “your faith has made you well.” The leper’s action to head toward a Jewish place of worship to be “inspected” represents the foundational act of faith: Taking God at his word and acting on it. Throwing aside racial and cultural barriers, he walked into healing.
- How did each leper show his faith?
- What do you see as indicators that these two lepers had submitted to God?
- How would you regard Gahazi’s taking of clothes and silver in connection with faith?
- Why do you think Elisha didn’t come out to talk directly with Naaman?
- Do you think faith is an absolute necessity for Divine healing?
- How about the slave girl in Naaman’s home? What about her faith?
- What about the Israelite “dirt” Naaman took home to Syria and the Samaritan going to a Jewish house of worship?