(2 Kings 5:1-14)
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Or, for those of us who listen to classical music: If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it. We’re familiar with this time-tested adage, but why does it ring true? Because we know that when something really is broken, it can be difficult to get it fixed. So, we shouldn’t waste our energy on things that are not Baroque.
Usually when something goes on the fritz, we know what to do. If the car breaks down, we take it to a car dealer or our favorite local mechanic. A bicycle goes to bicycle shop. We might even repair it ourselves if we’re handy. Sometimes a malfunctioning smartphone or computer can simply be handed to the nearest teenager for a quick fix. Even if something more complex like a marriage or relationship goes off the rails, we can go to a therapist, counselor or pastor.
But what do we do when a device isn’t working, and we don’t have a clue how to fix it? Even if we find a skilled tech who can deal with it, we might discover that a repair is too costly and not worth the time and effort. We’re better off shelling out the cash to buy a new device … which will fail within 18 months … and we swap out again, parting with more cash … until it fails, and the pattern continues. We know how it goes.
To break this cycle, France stepped to the forefront on the world stage in 2021 and, according to one source, began to require “makers of certain electronic devices, including smartphones and laptops, to tell consumers how repairable their products are. Manufacturers selling these devices in France must give their products a score, or ‘repairability index,’ based on a range of criteria, including how easy it is to take the product apart and the availability of spare parts and technical documents. … The repairability index represents part of France’s effort to combat planned obsolescence, the intentional creation of products with a finite lifespan that need to be replaced frequently, and transition to a more circular economy where waste is minimized.”
Well, hallelujah! France can now boast, Liberté, Egalité … and now, Reparabilité!
Let’s move for a moment from objects to living human beings. Can humans be repaired? More precisely, can humans experience healing?
Humans themselves have been answering this question since the time of Hippocrates, Galen and even Amenhotep, the chief physician of the Ramessid Egyptian Dynasty in 13th-century B.C. New Testament writer Dr. Luke was himself a physician. Jesus referred to the medical arts when He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). And, of course, Jesus became famous as a healer Himself. Sometimes, he had to flee from the crowds who were seeking a miracle.
Medieval doctors believed that the body had four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. They tried to heal people with leeches, bloodletting or drilling a hole into the cranium when necessary.
We’ve come a long way since then, and the medical profession today is one of the most respected careers. Justifiably so. Clearly, we believe that the human body can be repaired, fixed and restored to normal function. And if the body is damaged beyond repair, perhaps an artificial body part – a hip, knee, arm or leg – will do. The human body has a strong repairability index. But what about the soul, mind, relationships or marriage?
The case of the Assyrian commander in today’s reading is an interesting one, because here’s a guy who gets a twofer: Both his body and soul are healed! Let’s go over this by looking at four important facts.
- Naaman was sick. “He suffered from leprosy” (v. 1). This affliction (known today as Hansen’s disease) was as feared and dreaded then as perhaps cancer is today. It was a diagnosis no one wanted to hear. You can imagine Naaman seeing his doctor, and praying to himself, “Don’t let it be leprosy! Don’t let it be leprosy.”
His fears were justified. One writer describes the disease in detail: “Ancient leprosy began as small, red spots on the skin. Before too long the spots got bigger and started to turn white, with sort of a shiny, or scaly appearance. Pretty soon the spots spread over the whole body and hair began to fall out — first from the head, then even from the eyebrows. As things got worse, fingernails and toenails became loose; they started to rot and eventually fall off. Then the joints of fingers and toes began to rot and fall off piece by piece. Gums began to shrink, and they couldn’t hold the teeth anymore, so each of them was lost. Leprosy kept eating away at the face until literally the nose, the palate, and even the eyes rotted — and the victim wasted away until death.”
The Bible says, “Though a mighty warrior, [he] suffered from leprosy.” This is the thing about disease: it is no respecter of persons. He was a big man. A powerful man. A wealthy man. But he had leprosy and had to bear the social stigma that went with it.
Contrast his situation with the Hebrew servant girl, one of the two heroes in this story. She was weak. She had virtually no status in the Assyrian culture. She was the spoils of war (v. 2), a captive, a servant, a youth and a girl. But … she didn’t have leprosy. Naaman was rich and powerful but had an incurable disease; she was weak and powerless but had her health.
- This nameless servant-girl dared to make a suggestion. Her status as a nobody notwithstanding, she had the courage to speak up. She saw a need and filled it. She had no desire to delight in the misfortune of someone else. Instead, she lifted her voice to offer encouragement to her oppressor: “There is a fix for his condition,” she said to Mrs. Naaman. “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Mrs. Naaman had a chat with her husband, who conferred with the Assyrian king. Arrangements were made for a quick trip to their sworn enemy, Israel. For Elisha’s king, however, the trip was a political nightmare. But now, here is the godless, Assyrian general freshly arrived “at the entrance of Elisha’s house” (v. 9).
- Fix-it jobs require faith. This is certainly true whether you’re taking the car to see a mechanic, or your daughter to see a doctor. The object of your faith is the mechanic or the doctor. You have to trust them. You have to believe the surgeon operating on your child did not get through med school on a pass/fail basis.
This business of seeking a cure for a disease is tricky. On the one hand, we are all headed for death. It is a destination none of us can avoid. But on the other hand, who can blame us for seeking a cure and thereby extending our lives for as long as possible? In the end, however, death will claim us, and no amount of praying, fasting, pleading, crying or hoping will change this.
This is where faith comes in: When the praying is done, we live by faith. Our lives are not our own. We believe our lives are in the hands of God, so whatever befalls us, it’s good. We’re good. To God be the glory.
At some point, the body is not fixable. But, fortunately, for Naaman, the news was positive. The Assyrian commander could expect a good outcome, except …
- Pride often gets in the way of repairs and healing. This is true in matters of the spirit as well as the body. How many arguments have you had with a spouse or coworker that escalated out of control because you just couldn’t let it go? You would rather be right and lose a friend than pick your battles and save a relationship. You’d rather be right than happy.
Naaman is at the house of Elisha, the great prophet in Israel, and immediately, things go south. Elisha doesn’t even appear! Instead, barely acknowledging the general and the effort he has made to travel such a great distance to see him, he sends him a text message that reads: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”
This was totally unacceptable! “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” (vv. 11-12).
Suddenly, Naaman is a nobody. It’s like he had to take a number at the clinic. He felt disrespected. He felt he was being treated as any other leper waiting for a word or touch from the prophet.
Here’s the thing: Naaman, in his pride, had forgotten — like we do so often — that he was, in fact, no different than others in their hour of need. He was the beggar, the sinner, the leper, the human, the needy. He was all of that. In the sight of the prophet and of God, there was zero about Naaman that distinguished him from other lepers.
Now he was forced to bow in humility, and in that humiliation, he realized a truth that is so hard to accept. Like all of us, he was in need of help. He could not go it alone. He’d have to accept Elisha’s help or go home a leper. He could be humbled and healed, or proud and leprous. He could go big and go home as a leper, or he could go small and go home, healed and whole. His call.
Naaman’s problem was pride. God does things in God’s way, but Naaman had this all figured out. He wanted God to do things in his way. When God had other plans, he had a royal fit. “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!”
Notice the telling words, for me. Don’t we secretly feel this way, too? Perhaps we know at some level that God has many sheep in His pasture, but at a deeper level, we know that we’re special. We are some of God’s favorites. God will surely “wave his hand,” or use a magic wand, or cast some spell, so that my life can be changed for the better. Surely, God knows I need this promotion, or a new job. God will do something to save my marriage, to heal my disease or to patch the holes of my ruined and broken life.
The good news is that there “is a balm in Gilead.” Help is available, and often it comes from an unlikely source.
In Naaman’s case, it came from unnamed servants (the other heroes of this story), who called an emergency intervention, and had a “come to Jesus” meeting with their master and lord: “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’?” (v. 13).
And so, the mighty Naaman, reduced to humbling himself before the God of Israel, enduring the snub of a prophet of the Most High, walked down to the muddy Jordan, removed his clothes and in so doing, revealed his scabrous and broken body to his servants, and then lowered himself into the water until he was seen no more. Then, he shot up out of the river, gasping for air, and took a second plunge and repeated this until the seven-fold baptism was complete.
You know the story. When he emerged from the final rinse, he was whole and healed. His faith, along with some help from his friends, had made him whole.
Still, most of us know that sometimes things are beyond repair. The car is totaled. The laptop soaked with spilled coffee cannot be brought to life.
In Naaman’s story, we see a foreshadowing of the New Testament idea of the old nature vs. new nature dichotomy that the apostle Paul explains in Romans 5-8. You can’t put lipstick on a pig, or, as 19th-century London Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said in his book of proverbs The Salt-Cellars (published 1887), “A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog.” No, says Spurgeon and the apostle Paul, the hog nature must disappear. So here in our reading, in what looks like a rite of baptism, Naaman goes under the water, not once, but seven times — and emerges not a leprous hog, but a new man. Perhaps his nature has not changed (although there is evidence to suggest it has), but he now is a new, fresh, healed, different man. The “old man” (to use the expression of the KJV) is dead; the “new man” lives. “So if anyone be in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This is good news for those who feel that their relationship with God is broken or beyond repair. Rather than attempting a repair, the owner is issued a completely new phone, or, as the Bible puts it, a new nature, a new creation — a fresh start with an entirely new outlook and perspective.
This new nature, Paul explains, is nothing short of the nature of Christ himself.
That Said …
We must return to our world in which broken dreams, shattered relationships and unfulfilled expectations exist. Naaman’s story reminds us that in such a world we, too, can be repaired, mended and healed. And always remember: a little humility goes a long way. Better to be obedient without understanding than to be disobedient and trust in our own wisdom.
The arms of love can comfort a human back into wholeness! The balm of forgiveness can heal broken hearts! The justice of restoration and restitution can reset the human condition!
Do you ever feel wounded, scarred, broken and falling apart? You, too, can be “repaired.” That’s what Jesus is all about. Repairs are guaranteed. Amen!