Leprosy is a dreadful disease. It was during the time of Elisha and it still is today. To have leprosy in ancient times was a curse. It placed a particularly heavy burden on the person because it demanded isolation for those afflicted by the disease. We can read the Jewish laws concerning a leper for it explicitly demanded separation from the community. A person with leprosy could not even get close to anyone except another leper. The law branded a leper as unclean and they were required to shout out “unclean” if another person came close to them. To be a leper was to be an outcast.
Namaan was a foreigner but he would have heard of the God of the Israelites ability to work miracles. Namaan by the time of this story in the bible would have unsuccessfully tried everything to heal his leprosy. He wanted to join society so he travels from his native Syria to Israel to beg the prophet Elisha to invoke his God to heal him. So what if Israel was the enemy of Syria and he was a Syrian army commander? So what if he worshiped Syrian gods rather than the God of Israel? It was worth a shot because he could go to no one else and nothing he knew about could cure leprosy.
I am not sure what Namaan thought would happen to him when he stood face to face with Elisha. But I do not believe he thought that going into the waters of Jordan would be the way his leprosy would be cured. Yet that is exactly what Elisha told him to do so Namaan plunged into the waters. What choice did he have, he had traveled far and if he answer was to enter the waters of a dirty river then he would enter those waters. Can’t you imagine his relief when he came out healed.
After his healing, Namaan acknowledged that the God of Israel was superior to any god he had ever worshiped. Yet his offer of a gift to Elisha seems to indicate that his healing was the work of the prophet rather than God. He failed to understand that his healing was due to the power of God working in someone who understood he has access to that power as a believer. It took some time for Namaan to get the point and understand he must offer thanks to God and not the instrument of God.
Namaan was a pagan and he never heard of the Ten Commandments which starts off with “I am the Lord your God and you shall not have any strange gods before me.” Yet Namaan did not need Divine Revelation to tell him what he already knew by way of common sense. He had just received a new lease on life from a God he did not think was any different than the multitude of gods he worshiped. When he emerged from the waters of the Jordan he realized his belief that this incurable disease could be cured by his encounter with the prophet Elisha had been rewarded.
We don’t know if Namaan followed through with his pledge to only worship the God who healed him but his desire to worship God should be a wakeup call for us. What is it we offer God for his gift of salvation? Do we offer gifts and sacrifices? Have we become law abiding Christians believing the law will be our guide to righteousness? If so we have missed knowing the heart of God who desires us to call him “Abba.”
We like Namaan should leave our land of comfort and dare to go to the unknown place where God is waiting for us. We like Namaan should stand before God knowing he is our only hope for wholeness. We like the one leper in today’s gospel need to stand before God and give thanks for the gift of Jesus that freed us from the sin that eats away at our souls.
If we begin to do that we will find that we have become a people who are allowing the hand of God to touch us and change us. We will become disciples and prophets and kings and queens making the name of our God known to all who do not know him.