Toorak Uniting Church

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A righteous goy

2 Kings 5: 1 – 19   Luke 5: 17 – 20
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
28 February 2010

Naamans story is one of the stories in a whole sequence about the prophets Elijah and Elisha in the books of 1 and 2 Kings. It is an archetypal story, part of a whole sequence of other archetypal stories. Stories that have survived the centuries not because they are historical records, but because people recognised themselves and their own life experiences in them. If they were "only" historical record there would be little value in reading them in the context of worship. The fact that they are more than that, the fact that they are telling examples of how humans live and work, is what has kept them interesting over time.

So who are the main characters in this story in whom we may our own life experience see reflected?

First of all there is the powerful and glamorous Naaman. He has it all: power, wealth, success, control, initiative and fame. There is but one blight on his otherwise perfect life: He is not at all well.

And then there is a slave girl, kidnapped from her country presumably by the general and his army. She is at the other end of the spectrum: a real underdog - no power, no wealth, no control over her life, not even a name.

It is between those two extremes the story enfolds with another King, the prophet and another handful of servants playing the supporting roles.

The story of Naaman the general unfortunately a very old and very human story, replayed over and over again in every time and place: Two very wealthy and powerful people confronted by the one thing they can’t control: sickness and death.

You may be able to identify with the situation yourself: everything under control until suddenly you realise it isn’t. At all.

I’ve taken too many funerals of young successful people who had everything going for them to have any illusions about this happening in our world today and here in Toorak especially. People living in huge mansions, with everything their hearts may desire for the taking, kids in private schools, a couple of cars in the underground car park and suddenly there is the devastating news of a terminal illness breaking in.

But what about the slave girl? How does she connect to where you may have found yourself, may indeed find yourself in your life?

She has no control whatsoever over her life, no wealth, no power, and not much of a future either. Fortunately most of us find ourselves more on the Naaman side of life than on hers. We are free and relatively well off at that. We may perhaps not be as wealthy and powerful as some, but we are definitely not in as desperate a situation as the slave girl.

I am sure you have been where Naaman and his King found themselves. In a situation where you think you have covered it all and then, suddenly, your life starts falling apart at the seams because of something completely outside your power and control like illness or accident breaking in.

It’s probably not as easy to recognise yourself in the situation of the girl. But you may recognise her conundrum where Naaman is concerned. To make a choice for love. When someone really hurt you for instance, or when you were confronted by a situation where you could have, justifiably, turned bitter and revengeful, but made the choice for another, more constructive way of dealing with the person who hurt you or the painfulness that happened.

The girl chooses not to hold back because of what was done to her, she chooses to act from love and let go of the feelings of revenge and bitterness she must have had.

There is no reward for her, and neither is there for the friends of the man brought to Jesus who also let their actions be guided by love rather than what was justifiable or reasonable. That again reflects human experience. More often than not there is no reward for those who chose to let their actions be guided by love. However it’s those actions which become sources of wholeness and prove more important than any of the famous military conquests Naaman may have had to his name but are long since forgotten. Because they are agents of a change for better, even if it is only for one person or one situation.

Naaman goes home, with two mule loads of soil to remind him of what happened. They indicate that he has found another place and another God to call home. Born again, as clean as a new born baby, he returns to his position of power and wealth. With every opportunity to let what changed him bring about more change and more healing and wholeness. With the small act of love by the girl having a chance of rippling out at the highest levels.

I bet the slave girl came out of the whole experience reborn as well. If you can let go of your resentment and bitterness and be as generous and loving as she was, life has just got a whole lot better. Doing this for Naaman must have released her in a much more significant way than physical release could ever have done: the release of inner pain and the stranglehold of the festering sores of hatred caused by past ills done to her.

Remember her, next time you are offered a choice. A choice to be a source of healing and wholeness, or a choice for hatred and resentment to fester. A choice for rebirth for both you and whoever you will offer your generous love to, or a choice to let pain rule your heart and determine your actions. A choice to mend or a choice to leave the torn fabric of life fray even further. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2010

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