Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
2 Kings 5:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Healing of Naaman
5 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.[a] 2 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. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”[b] 4 So Naaman[c] went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 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. 6 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 leprosy.”[d] 7 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 leprosy?[e] Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
8 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.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 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.” 11 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![f] 12 Are not Abana[g] 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. 13 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’?” 14 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.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Jesus refers to this story in his first sermon in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
What Jesus was doing that day was laying out his mission before them using the words of Isaiah. He was saying to the people in his hometown that his mission is to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. In other words, Jesus came for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Jesus came to bring the good news for those who were looking for hope. He came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor—a powerful symbol for new beginnings, for grace, for forgiveness and for starting over.
Luke records that at first all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said to one another, “Is not this Joseph’s son. Isn’t this Joseph’s boy? What gracious words are coming from his mouth.” They were amazed at his gracious words. As the Common English Bible translation has it, “Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips.”
When they heard good news for the poor, the captives, the oppressed, they likely thought of themselves and no one else. They likely thought of how God’s favor was on them and not on those foreigners. Recovery of sight for the blind may have caused them to think of how they were blinded by tears as they groaned under the occupation of Rome—those foreigners, those Gentiles, those pagans. They don’t belong here. “The year of the Lord’s favor” came to be by Jesus time, associated with the rule of God, the kingdom of God. In the minds of many people, it was associated with getting rid of those Romans, of being set free of their political shackles.
They liked his gracious words about the fulfillment of that scripture.
But Jesus continued on and they went from being amazed at his gracious words to being shocked and angry at his words of grace. All he did was tell them a couple of very familiar Bible stories. Anyone in that synagogue could have told those stories.
In the first story Jesus referred to he said, “You know in the days of Elijah, when there was a big drought and for three and a half years it didn’t rain, there was a huge famine in the land and surely there were widows in Israel during that time. You know, it is a funny thing, God sent Elijah to only one widow, a widow of Zarephath in Sidon, a foreigner, a Gentile.”
Then, he referred to the story in today’s reading from 2 Kings: “In the days of Elisha, there were probably a lot of lepers in Israel, but the Lord sent Elijah’s successor, Elisha to only one leper and it was Namaan, the Syrian, a foreigner, a Gentile.”
All he did was refer to those Bible stories, stories that they all knew. But when Jesus put it in the context of God’s grace and love and inclusion being equally for everyone, he stepped on some toes. As a retired pastor where I once served used to say, “He plowed a little too close to the corn.” The shoes began to pinch and the shoes, while they fit, were very uncomfortable.
So, they picked him up and, without as much as a benediction, carried him to the brow of the hill to throw him over the cliff, to throw him out of the town, to kill him, or at least to teach him a lesson.
What happened? When Jesus began to tell those two stories, he contradicted what every one of them were probably thinking by reminding them that God’s grace extends way beyond where they would draw the line. They were operating under the notion that God’s favor was especially for them. Everyone sitting there heard those words of hope as only their words of hope. The good news for the poor was only for them, not for all poor and people poor in all ways. The words of release of the captives were only for them, not for the release of all captives and from all kinds of captivity. The words of freedom from oppression were words for freedom from their oppression not freedom for everybody from all kinds of oppression. When they understood what Jesus was saying, they wanted to kill him, because in truth, they were poor in love and grace and good will for others; they were held captive by their own prejudice and sin; they were oppressed by their own fears. They were blinded by their own fear and suspicion of strangers and foreigners. They were in need of transformation.
Aren’t we sometimes like the good people of Nazareth, drawing the circle of God’s love and grace smaller than the expansive love and grace of God revealed to us in Jesus?
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster