Formations 01.21.2018: Unexpected News

2 Kings 5:1, 9-17

Stained glass depicting Naaman’s healing in the Cologne Cathedral.

Our story this week begins as one ends. Naaman, mighty warrior that he was, filled his house with wealth and servants taken from raids in Israel. And yet, despite this resolved story of victory, success, and stability, he still suffered from leprosy. When his wife, named only as his wife and as a servant’s mistress, brings news of a healer in Israel, a path opens up.

On it, we meet two kings. The first, who rules over Aram, blesses his commander’s journey toward healing by sending a letter. The second king, however, responds to it with suspicion, not confidence. Having already seen Aram attack his people, Israel’s king expects more violence, and he tears his clothes, insisting that not even the king of Israel could heal him.

When we meet Elisha, that famous prophet and disciple to Elijah, a message and a messenger simply instruct the commander to come and wash in the Jordan. But here, the journey toward healing stalls. Naaman rejects the simple command.

His servants, those who travel with him, challenge him to take a chance for healing whenever and wherever it comes. He listens and is healed, but seeing these servants reminds us of another servant—the young girl who served his wife.

She, who had been forced to serve those who separated her from her homeland, opened a story where it seemed closed by the military power of Aram. In the face of an oppressive stability, she remembered and proclaimed that healing, and those with the power to enact it, came from a weakened Israel, not Aram.

This story invites us to consider our own place in the evangelical stories of our own time, as expressions of grief and fear and choruses of promise and hope break out among us. And this story tells us that gospel seeds grow from unexpected places. They have the power to make even a mighty warrior proclaim that God resides in defeated lands.

If this proclamation does not unsettle, let us remember that Jesus, too, preached this story to describe the year of God’s favor. Upon hearing it, his audience “got up, drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff” (v. 29).

Discussion

• Each character in this story needs healing or good news of some sort. How might good news emerge in each of their particular lives?
• With whom from this story do you most identify? Why?
• What messages of healing are being sown in your communities? What do these messages require of you?
• How can you grow in looking in unexpected places for good news? How can you share in, by both listening and proclaiming, this unexpected good news?

Reference Shelf

Little Ones and Power People

This narrative teems with themes that are defining for the faith of Israel. These themes testify to inscrutable gifts given by Yahweh. We may mention first the “young girl” in vv. 2-3. She has only a bit part and is not mentioned again. She is one of the “little ones” who are so characteristic and decisive for biblical faith, not unlike Puah and Shiphrah in Exodus 1:15-22. She asserts that the healing of Yahweh happens outside the precincts of grand order. She is a prisoner of war; and yet even in her abusive dislocation, she has not forgotten or given up on the particularity of her Israelite, prophetic faith. In this narrative, as we have seen, her very characterization as “young girl” is a direct anticipation of the restoration of the general who will be restored to “baby flesh.” The news of the God of Israel is characteristically enacted in, with, for, and through “little ones,” judged by the world to be of no account (see Judg 6:15; Matt 18:1-4; 19:13-15; 1 Cor 1:27-29).

The royal miscalculation of vv. 5-7, in which both king and general collude, is perhaps intended as a humorous detour. The truth is that none of the power people “get it.” They are excessively impressed with their own wealth and power and status, and imagine that in the midst of their grandeur dwells the power to heal. But of course they have it all wrong, as the self-impressed always do.

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 338–39.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email