Rev’d Jonathan Gale
2 Kings 5: 1 – 14 The Healing of Naaman
1Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ 4So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5And 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. 6He 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.’ 7When 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? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’8But 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.’9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ 11But 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! 12Are not Abana 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. 13But 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”?’ 14So 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.
John 5: 6
When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
When Jesus sees the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda he asks him what at first appears to be a strange question, “Do you want to get well?”
People can avoid healing for all sorts of reasons. Naaman, the Syrian army commander, almost missed out on healing altogether because he was offended at having to get into the Jordan River. Pride stood in the way of his healing.
But the most insidious reason we have to avoid getting well is that we are comfortable with dependence. It means we pass responsibility for our condition on to someone else.
But it’s not the condition of the dependent person I want us to think about today. I want us to think about the other side of the equation. Christians are often depended upon by people who refuse to take responsibility for their lives and this has powerful ramifications. Christians are easily exploited because:
- We confuse going the extra mile with signing up for an extra mile every day of our lives whether it is our responsibility or not
- We are easily made to feel guilty if we refuse to take on someone’s burden
- We are sensitive to the needs of people, especially if they are presented to us on a personal basis
However, what in business is called “accepting the monkey onto your back” (i.e. taking on a responsibility that in fact belongs to someone else) is more common than one might imagine.
You’ll notice the King of Israel wasn’t accepting any monkeys on his back. He was quite clear that the responsibility for healing Naaman was not his.
Now the reason we should avoid doing so is two-fold:
- If we take over from people the responsibilities that should be theirs we deny them their healing, their spiritual growth, their discovery of the glory of walking in responsive relationship with God.
- We also, when we give in to demands from people to meet needs they themselves should be meeting, channel our energies away from living the life God has designed for us to live.
So we deny both parties; ourselves and the manipulators, the opportunity of growing into the full stature of Christ.
I would go so far as to say this is an insidious evil.
In rugby, when you are running with the ball in hand, it is as important to be able to fend off tacklers as it is to select where to run and how. You need to get rid of what holds you back. Hebrews 12 begins:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…”
Shaking off sin is clearly something we should do, but identifying the weights that hold us back is just as important. Sometimes this is easier said than done as we can face complex situations: a dependent relative can often present us with that challenge. The important thing, though, is not to shirk doing the hard yards, not to avoid working out what it is we should be doing and what it is we should not be doing. It is very important that we do so and that we constantly review the status of our decisions based on changing circumstances.
There is great temptation in not taking responsibility for discovering what it is God wants you to take on in life. It is far easier to be at the whim of every need that comes by. It defines you, directs you and enables you to avoid guilt – all in the short term. In the end it has the reverse effect because it stunts growth in Christ and we soon sense that we are enslaved and not walking with God into the life that God has for us.
Edwin Friedman was a family systems theorist and wrote a great deal on leadership. I would like to read you a short story he published in 1990.
There was a man who had given much thought to what he wanted from life. He had experienced many moods and trials. He had experimented with different ways of living, and he had had his share of both success and failure. At last, he began to see clearly where he wanted to go.
Diligently, he searched for the right opportunity. Sometimes he came close, only to be pushed away. Often he applied all his strength and imagination, only to find the path hopelessly blocked. And then at last it came. But the opportunity would not wait. It would be made available only for a short time. If it were seen that he was not committed, the opportunity would not come again.
Eager to arrive, he started on his journey. With each step, he wanted to move faster; with each thought about his goal, his heart beat quicker; with each vision of what lay ahead, he found renewed vigor. Strength that had left him since his early youth returned, and desires, all kinds of desires, reawakened from their long-dormant positions.
Hurrying along, he came upon a bridge that crossed through the middle of a town. It had been built high above a river in order to protect it from the floods of spring.
He started across. Then he noticed someone coming from the opposite direction. As they moved closer, it seemed as though the other was coming to greet him. He could see clearly, however, that he did not know this other, who was dressed similarly except for something tied around his waist.
When they were within hailing distance, he could see that what the other had about his waist was a rope. It was wrapped around him many times and probably, if extended, would reach a length of 30 feet.
The other began to uncurl the rope, and, just as they were coming close, the stranger said, “Pardon me, would you be so kind as to hold the end a moment?”
Surprised by this politely phrased but curious request, he agreed without a thought, reached out, and took it.
“Thank you,” said the other, who then added, “two hands now, and remember, hold tight.” Whereupon, the other jumped off the bridge.
Quickly, the free-falling body hurtled the distance of the ropes length, and from the bridge the man abruptly felt the pull. Instinctively, he held tight and was almost dragged over the side. He managed to brace himself against the edge, however, and after having caught his breath, looked down at the other dangling, close to oblivion.
“What are you trying to do?” he yelled.
“Just hold tight,” said the other.
“This is ridiculous,” the man thought and began trying to haul the other in. He could not get the leverage, however. It was as though the weight of the other person and the length of the rope had been carefully calculated in advance so that together they created a counterweight just beyond his strength to bring the other back to safety.
“Why did you do this?” the man called out.
“Remember,” said the other, “if you let go, I will be lost.”
“But I cannot pull you up,” the man cried.
“I am your responsibility,” said the other.
“Well, I did not ask for it,” the man said.
“If you let go, I am lost,” repeated the other.
He began to look around for help. But there was no one. How long would he have to wait? Why did this happen to befall him now, just as he was on the verge of true success? He examined the side, searching for a place to tie the rope. Some protrusion, perhaps, or maybe a hole in the boards. But the railing was unusually uniform in shape; there were no spaces between the boards. There was no way to get rid of this newfound burden, even temporarily.
“What do you want?” he asked the other hanging below.
“Just your help,” the other answered
“How can I help? I cannot pull you in, and there is no place to tie the rope so that I can go and find someone to help me help you.”
“I know that. Just hang on; that will be enough. Tie the rope around your waist; it will be easier.”
Fearing that his arms could not hold out much longer, he tied the rope around his waist.
“Why did you do this?” he asked again. “Don’t you see what you have done? What possible purpose could you have had in mind?”
“Just remember,” said the other, “my life is in your hands.”
What should he do? “If I let go, all my life I will know that I let this other die. If I stay, I risk losing my momentum toward my own long-sought-after salvation. Either way this will haunt me forever.”
With ironic humor he thought to die himself, instantly, to jump off the bridge while still holding on. “That would teach this fool.” But he wanted to live and to live life fully. “What a
choice I have to make; how shall I ever decide?”
As time went by, still no one came. The critical moment of decision was drawing near. To show his commitment to his own goals, he would have to continue on his journey now. It was already almost too late to arrive in time. But what a terrible choice to have to make.
A new thought occurred to him. While he could not pull this other up solely by his own efforts, if the other would shorten the rope from his end by curling it around his waist again and again, together they could do it. Actually, the other could do it by himself, so long as he, standing on the bridge, kept it still and steady.
“Now listen,” he shouted down. “I think I know how to save you.”
And he explained his plan. But the other wasn’t interested.
“You mean you won’t help? But I told you I cannot pull you up by myself, and I don’t think I can hang on much longer either.”
“You must try,” the other shouted back in tears. “If you fail, I
The point of decision arrived. What should he do? “My life or this other’s?” And then a new idea. A revelation. So new, in fact, it seemed heretical, so alien was it to his traditional
way of thinking.
“I want you to listen to me carefully,” he said, “because I mean what I am about to say. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life I hereby give back to you.”
“What do you mean?” the other asked, afraid.
“I mean, simply, it’s up to you. You decide which way this ends. I will become the counterweight. You do the pulling and bring yourself up. I will even tug a little from here.”
He began unwinding the rope from around his waist and braced himself anew
against the side.
“You cannot mean what you say,” the other shrieked. “You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility. What could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me.”
He waited a moment. There was no change in the tension of the rope.
“I accept your choice,” he said, at last, and freed his hands.
From “FRIEDMAN’S FABLES” by Edwin Friedman,
(New York: Guildford Press, 1990) ISBN 978-0-89862-440-3
- Why do you think Christians are easily exploited by manipulative persons?
- Why is it damaging to people if we carry burdens they should carry themselves?
- Why is it damaging to us if we carry burdens for people they should be carrying themselves?
- In the Friedman story, The Bridge, were you surprised at the ending, and do you think the man on the bridge should have acted as he did?
- How do you maintain healthy and caring relationships without coming across as cold and uncaring?
- Co-dependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. Why might one be tempted to indulge in co-dependency?
- We have not looked at another form of dependency: depending on people when we should be depending upon God. Can you think of ways that this happens?
- What are the dangers of not depending upon God where we should?
- How do you go about building a healthy balance of relationships with both God and your fellow human beings?
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