Text: 2 Kings 5:1-14
What does a miracle look like? It’s a powerful and important question, and far more relevant today than we realize. A common theme throughout my preaching is helping us realize we have more in common with the characters in the Bible than we realize. But because of time, or maybe an over-abundance of reverence, we have removed ourselves from the stories of the Bible, in that these are events or stories that happened way back then. Stuff like that doesn’t happen to ordinary, common folk like us. After all, aren’t miracles supposed to be these big, grand spectacular events? The instant dissipation of a storm at the wave of a hand, a stampede of pigs, a column of light shining down from heaven? This is the kind of thing we have come to expect… and yet I think that expecting a spectacle has made it so we miss the very real miracles that happen to us in everyday life.
Here’s an example: How many of you are breathing right now? Show of hands…
If you’re not putting up your hand, I’ll have someone call an ambulance…
We can get into the details of the biological processes of breathing, how it transfers oxygen from the air into your blood, and provides you with more than 90% of your energy requirements as a human being. There’s been scientific observations as to how happens, how it has developed through time in various life forms, etc., but does that make the fact that we are converting the energy out of air into something that sustains our life any less of a miracle?
So what does a miracle look or feel like?
Think about that while we talk about Naaman’s tale. The story from 2nd Kings today is one of contrasts. It pits the big and mighty against the down-to-earth. It is a reminder that while as human beings we are attracted by the big and spectacular, God often works in very mundane circumstance… and because of that, we too often miss the real miracle. The story of Naaman, the Leper General is a tale of contrasts.
It’s one of those buried gems within the Bible that we don’t get to hear very often. A man of great accomplishments, of considerable wealth and fame, he has everything one might expect of a successful general… except for one thing: he suffers from a disfiguring disease. The story in 2nd Kings takes this tangent, to tell of a foreigner who finds healing in the most unexpected of places.
As the story goes, Naaman is introduced to us as a General in the army of a kingdom called Aram. A-R-A-M. It’s actually where we get the word “Aramaic” from. If you were to look at an ancient map of the area around Israel, Aram is the land which is now the western part of Syria, including Damascus.
Naaman, is introduced to us as a great military leader… and is granted the best of all possible compliments to an outsider: “The Lord had given him the victory…” in his leadership as a general. Foreigners, and outsiders were rarely ever granted that honour. He has everything going for him, except for one thing: he is a leper. He was afflicted with a horribly disfiguring disease that would leave him as an outcast under any other circumstances Yet his accomplishments in life are so successful that he is able to maintain his station… yet he walks a very fine line. One slip up, one failure, and there would be no chance for redemption… and he would be exiled for the rest of his natural life.
During one of Naaman’s many successful raids, one of his captives is a young Hebrew girl, who is put to work in the General’s entourage with Naaman’s wife. As a way to entertain the people she now serves, the girl tells these wondrous stories of a great prophet in Samaria who is known for working miracles. Eventually, the story reaches Naaman’s ears.
Desperate for his own miracle, Naaman decides to go to his King in Damascus, and ask him for leave to travel to Israel to search for this great prophet. Not only does the king think it’s a good idea. He gives it the royal treatment… he provides a full diplomatic letter, and a king’s ransom to along with it. Only the best for his favoured general…
This is not just a small private trip, this is the full court press. Horses, chariots, and in terms of money, it says ten talents of silver, ten thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments… a colossal gift to the King of Israel for providing this miracle. In modern terms they were carting around some twenty-five million dollars in cash.
With all this, Naaman sets out on his trip to find this great prophet. His first stop, of course, is with the King of Israel… which would be some cause for concern.
Keep in mind how this might look politically. If you were living in this time, and a general from a neighbouring state that has been hostile in the past, shows up on the doorstep with a full military escort, how might you interpret it? The letter that Naaman carries is probably pretty flowery in its language… but the basic message is still the same. It is one king, and a powerful one at that, telling a weaker neighbour to “heal my servant.”
Not surprisingly, with this big, spectacular entourage, the King of Israel reads between the lines and sees this as a conspiracy. He assumes that the Arameans are spoiling for a fight, and the King of Aram is simply looking for an excuse to go to war. Not only that, how utterly convenient it is for Aram’s greatest general to come in and scout out all the defences in person! To the King of Israel, it’s obviously a spying and intelligence-gathering trip, and yet there is absolutely nothing he can do about it.
Of course, he doesn’t know or doesn’t believe that Naaman’s visit is a legitimate one. Instead he begins a loud and very public lament that war with the Arameans is imminent. He symbolically tears his clothes, a very drastic demonstration of mourning.
Eventually, someone from the camp of the prophet Elisha hears about the king’s complaining. Elisha sends a message to the King and tells him to quit his whining, and send Naaman to him. Eager to get this brooding leper-General off of his doorstep the king readily agrees. Perhaps he even secretly hopes that Naaman will get mad at the prophet and kill him, so that the king doesn’t have to deal with Elisha as a thorn in his side.
Up until this point this has all been about a big flash, big show. Large entourages, staggering amounts of cash, opulent wealth, and really looking for something that is beyond spectacular. Keep in mind that Elisha’s home was a far cry for a King’s palace… and this whole entourage seemed wholly out of place. Naaman comes to Elisha’s home, arriving with all of the great pomp and circumstance worthy of a King. Naaman is all prepared for this moment. Finally, we are getting somewhere! He arrives before the house of the prophet, the trumpets blare, announcing Naaman’s presence… and with great expectations, all eyes are cast upon the house door.
…and after a great pause of anticipation, Elisha’s servant comes out of the house and tells him to wash in the Jordan seven times. Elisha doesn’t even have the courtesy to show his face!
Seriously. How impressed would you be if you went to all this effort to see a doctor, and the receptionist at the front desk told you to go have a bath?
Didn’t think so.
Neither is Naaman impressed. In fact, he’s quite angry. All of his pent-up expectations come out. He says out loud what most of us have probably come to expect. He wanted Elisha to come out of his hut in some grand fashion, wave his hand over the spot, while incanting some oaths or magic words… doing something to at least look like he was doing something.
But instead, a servant comes out of the house, and says, “go have a bath.” More specifically, he tells him to go have a bath in the Jordan River.
Some of you are more fortunate than I in that you have probably seen the Jordan river. I have not. My experience is in pictures. When Naaman gets annoyed and talks about the rivers of Damascus being much nicer than the Jordan, he’s not kidding. The Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea. It is not a great or spectacular river at all… in fact, it’s pretty unremarkable otherwise. The Bow river is bigger. So when Elisha through a servant tells him to have a bath in its murky waters, he’s just a bit put out.
Fortunately, in the middle of his rant, his servant speaks up and interrupts him.
He says, “Um… Boss… don’t take this the wrong way, but if he said to you to do something hard… say like climbing the highest mountain, or travelling to the ends of the earth… would you not have done it? All he is saying to you is go over there, and wash in the River seven times. What have you got to lose? Give it a try!”
Naaman’s servant had a point. In other stories and cultures we have these legends of heroes like Hercules who has to accomplish twelve impossible tasks. All Naaman has to do is go down to the river and wash. So he went to the Jordan, and bathes in it seven times. What do you know? It worked! Naaman is healed.
Now suppose for a minute that Naaman had not listened to his servants? Suppose for a minute that he had gone off in a huff because he had expected Elisha to come out and do something spectacular, and was disappointed that he didn’t. Suppose for a minute that Naaman had ignored the advice of those small voices, telling him to pay attention to something that would be otherwise common or ordinary. He would have missed it. He would not have been healed. There would have been no story to tell at all.
So in light of this, I come back to that first question… what does a miracle look or feel like?
What miracles, like Naaman, have we missed because we’re expecting something different?
We tend to miss the miracle in the mundane. Instead, we look for God in the grand and spectacular, and not paying attention to those little “common” things that we too often take for granted. The story of Naaman is a story of contrasts, showing how the mighty and powerful becomes healed through things very plain and ordinary. We cannot be so preoccupied looking for what we expect, because we might just miss the very real miracle that is right in front of us.
Remember that the real miracle is how ordinary the grace of God can be. We can miss miracles by not paying attention to the common things in life. If we expect the big show, like Naaman did, we may be in danger of missing the real miracle when it comes.
The truly miraculous moments are when we something “common,” something that we take for granted in a new light or a new way. Our challenge is to try to listen to the small voices… the unexpected ones, like the servants, those people or instances that seem so insignificant that it seems hardly worthwhile to give it a thought. Our challenge is to really try to appreciate the so-called “Common” miracles that we experience every day. You might be surprised what you start to see!