Over the last week or so, I have spent a lot of time distracting myself with social media – it is so easy to do these days. On one of my mindless scrolls I came across a picture of 3 world leaders; Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, in conference at the end of World War 2. Next to that image was a picture of Boris Johnson, windswept and ridiculous; a gurning Donald Trump; and the shirtless bravado of Vladimir Putin. The two contrasting images were, of course, designed to educate us all of the situation we are in terms of world leaders. How did we get here?
The reality is that, in 2020, influence and power is defined by celebrity and our control of popular opinion. This is the message that our most powerful politicians are sending us. This is the message that our wealthiest influencers are sending us – from the Zuckerbergs to Kardashians. But it isn’t a new message.
About 3,000 years ago, Naaman was a powerful, successful leader of men. He had worked his way up the social ladder and could demand an audience with the King of Syria. He had servants and he had money. His power and influence was so great that even leprosy could be overlooked, to some extent at least. In 2 Kings 5:4, Naaman “went to” the King of Syria, who took the affliction seriously enough to write a personal letter to the King of Israel on his behalf. Imagine being so influential today that you could walk into Boris Johnson’s office, knowingly carrying Covid-19, and ask him to write a personal email to President Trump to ask for help. Not that President Trump could provide that help; but it is not out of the question that he would assume he could.
Of course, the other point here is that Naaman’s influence, however great and however earned through years of hard work and valour, could not give him what he wanted. He was like a weathered movie star finally realising that celebrity is not what expected. All that time and energy spent climbing ladders only to get to the top and realise that the view might be better, but the pain inside remains the same. What was missing at the bottom of the ladder is still missing at the top.
For Naaman the desperation would lead him to heed the potential of advice from a servant girl (in verse 3) and later from the servants that travelled with him to Israel (in verse 13). This man that commands an audience with kings that tear their clothes at the thought of not being able to help him, is so desperate that he will listen just as intently to a servant of no social standing at all. This is the intent of God. In order to truly open our hearts he needs first for them to be yearning beyond all comprehension.
The real joy in this passage for me is in the simplicity of God’s request. It requires an act of faith from Naaman – to step into the waters of the Jordan, but it does not require great financial or physical sacrifice. No animals have to be slaughtered and no-one has to go to war.
My own journey to faith was personal to me, but it required nothing more from me than the willingness to listen to people I might previously have dismissed. These weren’t people who had anything to gain by my reading of the bible or attending a church or a study group, these were servants of God’s word, who’s hearts are full and who wanted me to experience the same sense of peace that heals us inside.
The question now, for all of us, is how can we be better servants of God’s word ourselves, by blessing the people around us with access to the same miracles experienced by Naaman and by all of us who call the church of Jesus Christ our home.
Written by Alasdair Mckay