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. […]
[Naaman] 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.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the LORD.
2 Kings 5:1-5, 14-17; excerpt from lectionary text for Sunday July 7, 2019
Naaman is a great man; a mighty warrior. Naaman is good at what he does. Maybe Naaman even is good. His wife’s maid, an Israelite captive, cares enough for his well-being to speak to her mistress. The women’s speech may be for their own sake — the status of the household is not unconnected to the status of its master — yet, reading, I imagine relationship — hierarchical, yes (this is the ancient world, after all) but flowing within that frame. Perhaps the slave-maid cares not only for household stability but for the household. Picture Naaman a man of rectitude. Self-disciplined. He knows what he is due, and expects it. He knows his own duty, and fulfills it. His sense of honor requires of him courtesy. He inclines his ear to one who owes him her survival, hears the possibility of hope from a slave, and commits himself to pursue it, even to another land. He is able to hear and willing to ask, and what he asks is the opportunity to buy.
Naaman does not request a gift. Naaman expects to pay with vast quantities of silver and gold and garments (2 Kings 5:5), with extreme exertion (5:13). There is a certain humility in Naaman’s approach. He is not demanding, not taking, not grabbing. He asks permission from his king; he approaches Israel’s king; he brings resources to procure what he requests. He respects the process and follows it dutifully. Yet maybe this deference betrays his pride. Naaman not only expects to pay, he wants to pay. He is offended when the prophet does not appear himself (5:11). Naaman knows what he is due. Naaman does not come as a supplicant. He comes with resources, treasures, all of which he is willing to offer. Naaman does not intend to accrue a debt. Naaman has planned and prepared to pay his own way.
Yet the message the prophet sends to Naaman is ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times’ (5:10). And once his servants have pointed out the absurdity of resisting the simple for having expected the difficult (5:11), Naaman ‘dips’ or ‘plunges’ or ‘immerses’ himself in the river (5:14).
The Naaman that emerges from his immersion is clean from leprosy. He is stunned at the healing, offers again all that he has brought — explicitly naming it ‘present’ or ‘blessing,’ a response to his new knowledge of Israel’s LORD (5:15). Naaman offers. Naaman urges. The man of God refuses. Twice.
The Naaman that emerges from his immersion is not only freed from leprosy. He seems, as well, to have been freed his proud insistence that he must pay his own way. Instead Naaman asks that something else be given to him, something more: two loads of earth from Israel, that he may take them home to Amon and there worship the LORD.
Having spent the week immersed in this text — gone all the way under, felt its ripples and waves and current more closely and strongly than I could have known from shore — it seems to me that Naaman’s asking is the most telling effect of the potency of God’s grace.
Naaman had been given victory. Naaman had been given healing. Now Naaman begs a gift. He becomes supplicant. He admits need. He risks refusal. He relinquishes his sense of self-sufficiency, stops clinging to the gifts (innate and material) that bought him prestige and position, the ability to pay, stretches out his hands, palms up and open to receive, and asks.
Naaman makes himself vulnerable.
As one realizes, when immersed, entirely encompassed by the force and flow of the water’s embrace, one already is. Immersed yet — asking grace — buoyant.