God has a peculiar way of being gracious and accepting of humanity. This story of Naaman’s cleansing is one of the prime examples of God’s grace. When the story begins, Naaman is not a God fearer. He is far from it. He is not an Israelite, but is a pagan worshiping warrior who is highly honored in his pagan community. In his eyes, he has no reason to follow the God of Israel. He has it made with power and honor in his community, except for one thing, he had leprosy. It is not clear how intense his skin condition was, but the ancient world skin disease was considered very unclean and very unlucky. It was the one thorn in his side that made people want to steer clear of him.
When Naaman learns of Elisha, he takes it seriously, probably because he has tried everything else. If there is anything in the world that would take this obstacle away, he would try it. He was estranged in a way that kept him from close social interaction with others, which is devastating to any human. Proximity and relationship is important for a healthy person. When we are disconnected and do not have people to share life with, we experience the equivalent of leprosy in the ancient world. The world does not change much. We live in a culture that has the most potential for connectivity in history. Millions upon millions of people connect every day through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and yet our culture is the most depressed and socially disconnected culture to roam the earth. This is not the way God created us. If you look at the first five books of the Old Testament known is the Torah (Law), you see that God has a plan for humans to actually relate to each other in positive, healthy ways. If you look at the first book of Genesis, the majority of it is God attempting to help humanity to connect positively. Most of those people start with not having relationship with God. God comes to meet them where they are. Naaman is exactly in the same place when he seeks out the healing, but God decides to use Elisha to meet him where he is.
Experiencing God’s favor and redemption is not an event that has a prerequisite. God is a gracious God and keeps meeting people where they are in life. When people come to seek healing, we need heroes of faith like Elisha to reflect a gracious God. People can tend to assume so much about an unbeliever when they come seeking faith and healing, much like Israel’s king in this story, who panics and thinks that Naaman’s country is out to get him. So many churches and christians act this way. They think that any unbeliever is out to tear down the faith and deconstruct religion. We are in need of Elisha’s who will step out in faith and show enough grace to minister to someone different from himself. With all the history of God reaching out to people, even when they were not seeking Him, it only makes sense that a religion based on being like this God would mimic this characteristic. Jesus told us to be “holy as your heavenly Father is holy (Matthew 5:48),” reflecting what was found in the Torah (Leviticus 11:44). God is not in the business of asking people to become holy before knowing Him. He wants them to know Him and be holy in response to His healing and faithfulness.
Living in today’s culture, we know that people are disconnected at an unprecedented spiritual and emotional level. The question is not how are they going to help themselves. The question is who will show them a better way. People of faith are existing in a divine moment where God is priming us for showing them a better way of relating to each other. We cannot continue to expect the church doors to be a filter keeping the holiness in and the impure out. It should be where the hurting people enter and are healed. It can be a place where people become healers instead of judgers. It can be a place that produces a movement that will make the world a better place.
When Naaman is healed, it comes as a surprise, because he thinks that Elisha is not taking him seriously, but what actually was happening was that Naaman’s pride was being challenged. He was supposed to be a mighty warrior. Where was the great challenge to put him in the history books as the achiever of his own healing. Dipping into a nasty river was not the image he had made for himself. Once he tries it, surrenders to a lower position, and is given the healing, he sees God as a provider. He starts to shed the false image he made for himself. The mighty warrior he wanted to be honored was transformed into someone better.
We have a chance to show people a better image to go for. We have something God has for us. Are we showing people what that looks like. Are we showing them something admirable, or showing them the door to get out? To be the heroes that God wants us to be, we have to be filled with love and grace to carry out the truth that we have been given. If we reflect what Elisha reflected, we will see people connect and become whole people.