John 4:5-42

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 a skin disease. 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 skin disease.” 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 skin disease.” 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 skin disease? 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 skin disease! 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.”

I have always appreciated the way this passage from 2 Kings illustrates how basic human needs can trump political, religious and ethnic divides. Naaman, an Aramaean military officer, is afflicted with a terrible skin disease (leprosy in the O.T. refers to any infectious disease, not necessarily Hansen’s), and was so desperate that he was willing to cross into “adversarial” territory to be healed by the prophet of Israel. That prophet, Elisha, sends a messenger who instructs Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times. But Naaman isn’t buying it. He expects fireworks—for Elisha to show his face, wave his wand, and open the skies to reveal Yahweh Himself, or some leprosy-zapping rainbow, or…something. But the ways of Yahweh and Elisha are not the ways of Spielberg and Bruckheimer, and a simple “rinse-and-repeat” in the Jordan is all that’s required. Anti-climactic for sure.

This is not to say that all of God’s miracles are quiet and matter-of-fact. Sometimes God foregoes that still small voice; sometimes God is in the earthquake. He was certainly present in the aftermath of the quake that rocked Turkey and Syria last month. Eleven to twelve days after the seism, rescuers were pulling people—living people!—from the rubble. These rescues were not only climactic but shocking; one boy was unburied, still breathing, after 11 days because someone in his family spied his report card and knew where to dig because it meant his bedroom was below. As one CNN reporter commented, “The word ‘miracle’ has been thrown around for days now, but that’s exactly what they are, miracles.” The Bible and life are replete with miracles large and small. Some split the heavens; others whisper.

What is heartrending and hard to understand is when prayers for miracles go unanswered. Those desperate people in Turkey and Syria have not only lost their loved ones but their homes. Where is God in their despair? I do believe God is present, if silent. I will not presume to say that the miracle, perhaps, is that they are able to put one foot in front of the other and live for another day—that living is its own miracle. I can only venture that we must never give up on miracles, just as we cannot ever give up on Christ Jesus, because we are the children of a God who resurrects. There is no suffering we will ever endure that God will not redeem. Please know this.


When my soul sheds its tears, When my heart languishes in longing, When my whole being shivers in fatigue, Come, O Jesus, I beg you to come. —A prayer written by Lithuanian prisoners (2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell, 1999, p. 582.)


The Rev. Canon Dana Colley Corsello

Canon Vicar