2 Kings 5:1-15 (NRSVCE)
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel."
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, "Wash, and be clean'?" So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant."
This reflection is going to be a bit more personal, as our reading from 2 Kings on the healing of Naaman speaks volumes to how God’s healing power overcomes our pride and our doubt. Naaman was a powerful man, very sure of himself in all things, and also had the horrible affliction of leprosy. He sent to Elisha, already a well-known prophet at the time, for help with his condition. When told he should go wash in the waters of the Jordan River, he thought it ridiculous. The Jordan was dirty, not nearly as pristine and cleansing as the rivers of Damascus! How could this cure leprosy? But convinced by his servants, he went to the Jordan anyway to wash in the waters. When he emerged, he was not only completely healed, but completely renewed! It says “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” It was only then that Naaman believed!
Now, there’s two things going on here that I think are important. First, Naaman had incredible doubts about what Elisha had told him to do. It was preposterous! And yet, he did it anyway. That is a tremendous act of faith. When we talk about faith, we often make it seem easy. “Just have faith in God!” But in fact it is incredibly difficult! Doubts are always present, especially in times of struggle like Naaman endured. But faith means trusting in God despite our doubts, it means obeying God’s commands even when they seem absurd. Naaman was a proud man, and it takes a great act of faith to overcome one’s pride and doubt to do what God asks of us. And in being faithful, we will see great things. We will be made anew!
The second thing going on here is the fact that it is through washing that Naaman was healed. And not just any old bath, but washing in the Jordan River, the very river where Jesus was baptized by John! It was by washing in water that Naaman was renewed, just like we are renewed in the cleansing waters of baptism. Jesus says “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5) It is the waters of Christ’s baptism that renew us, making us capable of entering the kingdom of God. In the case of Naaman, the waters of the Jordan cleansed him of his doubt, as he says “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
I think back to my own baptism, less than two years ago. Like Naaman, I had doubts. I knew in my mind that Christianity was true, but a part of me resisted. I was anxious and afraid right up until the moment it happened. “Am I doing the right thing?” “What if this isn’t true?” But it was at the moment my priest poured the baptismal water over my head that all doubt was washed away. I knew I was where I needed to be. There was no longer any hesitation. I knew that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.
Today’s passage is a prefigurement of the cleansing baptism which was given to us by Jesus. It speaks volumes to the power of baptism, and to how faithfulness in times of doubt can yield tremendous fruit.