“God’s EASY Path: The Secret to Happiness”
From the Revised Common Lectionary for 10 October, 2010
2 Kings 5:1-16 (New International Version)
Naaman Healed of Leprosy
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. [a]
2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.
3 She said to her mistress, «If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.»
4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said.
5 «By all means, go,» the king of Aram replied. «I will send a letter to the king of Israel.» So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents [b] of silver, six thousand shekels [c] of gold and ten sets of clothing.
6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: «With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.»
7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, «Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!»
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: «Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.»
9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.
10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, «Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.»
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, «I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.
12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?» So he turned and went off in a rage.
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, «My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!»
14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, «Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant.»
16 The prophet answered, «As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.» And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
In 586 BCE, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah by conquering Judah and Jerusalem, effectively ending the self-rule of the Judean kingdom. He emptied the land of its prominent citizens, perhaps it was the world’s first “BRAIN DRAIN”. HE sent tens of thousands of G-d’s Chosen People into exile in Babylon. He destroyed Jerusalem, defiled the Temple, and took the Hebrew people into exile in Babylon. This was not ALL a BAD thing… remember, it was the fulfillment of prophecy. Nebuchadnezzar’s exile of the Jews, all to one area, his capital city of Babylon, was ultimately the tool that took the Hebrew G-d to other nations.
Before “THE BABYLONIAN EXILE”, G-d’s people connected themselves to G-d and to the land. Remember that Namaan said, “ «Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel…” The G-d of the Jews was connected to the LAND of ISRAEL… G-d was a TRIBAL concept… until the exile. YAHWEH, (a bad translation, by the way, so I’m told), was an ISRAELI god, but Namaan was the first person of consequence to honor the G-d of Israel and expose foreign territory to YAHWEH. Need I say that Namaan was a heathen, a gentile?
The idea of a territorial god is strange to us, but at that time, the idea of worshipping the G-d of the Hebrews on soil outside of Judea was unheard of. It’s hard for us to understand that the people tied their G-d and their hearts to their land. The people took Judaism with them in their hearts, and transplanted it to the new land where they were held in exile. HELD IN EXILE.
EXILE: There’s a heavy word for you. WE hear news reports of people on the other side of the world, walking, carrying their children, their belongings, and going into exile, mostly into refugee camps. Sometimes they are fleeing natural disasters, sometimes political terrors, but they all have left “HOME”, and are being transplanted, to a new life in a new place.
Exile can also be self-imposed. Those of us who are expats can identify with the weightiness of living in exile. Like turtles, we carry “home” with us, working to clone our previous lives. Self-imposed exile sounds innocuous, but in reality, it is weighty.
We begin to re-invent ourselves in exile, seeking to reproduce the good parts of what we call “home”. Then we are hit by the reality that we are not “home”. Safely in exile, we suddenly realize that “home” was wonderful, and we see it through rose-tinted glasses. We lament our loss of steady electric current, smooth roads, billing systems that spit out correct balances and which arrive on time, traffic that is orderly, customer service departments.
At first, exile is a wonderful gift… a release from whatever problems sent us out to find a new niche in the world. Inevitably, however, we begin to miss home, to be “homesick”. We realize how much energy is needed to learn to call this new place “home”, and long for our “REAL” home. We don’t even stop to think of the homeland problems, and the time and energy we spent in learning coping strategies to deal with them. We sap our strength and our imagination fruitlessly longing for our comfort foods, our favorite bread, PBS television, or drivers who stop for red lights! (Have we all been here long enough to acknowledge that a red light is merely a suggestion?)
Here we have the prophet Jeremiah, who tells us how to live in exile. Today’s ‘prophets’ are our psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and political pundits. The advice we receive from them is pretty standard: be “politically correct”, “get involved”, and “volunteer”. Here we have Jeremiah, long before political correctness, (which is mostly well-intentioned deceit and borders o being just plain phony), a prophet who professes to speak for the LORD! Listen to what HE says,”
Jeremiah: 29:5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 29:6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
We each have gifts to bring to our new homes in exile. Those of us in exile are the agents to transplant our gifts to our new homes. We won’t be carrying a new god, but we DO carry globalization. I’m not a big fan of globalization, because in its inception, it looks a lot like exploitation to me. Hopefully, the process will mature and equalize, and become what idealists dream it will be. We expat exiles benefit when we exercise the gift of appreciation for what we find in Panamá. Here we find an emphasis on family, patience, cooperation and friendliness.
In the spirit of globalization, we find that Panama has lessons for us, and at the same time, we find whole sectors of Panamanians who are exiles within their nation’s borders… indigenous people, marginalized people, un-educated people, people who have left their homes to migrate to the city… all who have exiled themselves for one reason or another. There are other Panamanians who are exiles in their own country, no solamente los Chiricanos. There are circles within society that honor unofficial caste systems. Every shade and hue of skin is counted by some, and marrying outside one’s immigrant circle is still pretty taboo… Greeks who don’t marry Greeks, Chinese who don’t marry Chinese… they are exiles in their own land… all of them.
In Panama, as everywhere around the world, there are people who have been sent to live in exile in the realm of CANCER. That’s pretty scary. Cancer survivors are wonderful. They give freely of their gifts to those who are new to the exile of Cancer, newcomers who find themselves afflicted.
Among Panama’s people in exile, not to be forgotten are the homosexuals… tomorrow is international “COMING OUT” DAY, by the way. Panama suffers from the stranglehold of a conservative church which often exiles homosexuals to the fringes. Our BUC creed declares that we are a bridge of acceptance of all, regardless of sexual orientation, and that we are ever seeking to practice with each other the reflection of the greater love that G-d has for us. Look at the bulletin, it’s right there in our Mission Statement. This boils down to mean that we recognize legitimate loving relationships between ALL individuals. That’s a tall order.
In this church we want to send NO ONE into exile by virtue of race, caste, religious conviction, sexual orientation, nationality, language, WHATEVER… you name it. We work at COLLECTING exiles, not at sending people into exile from our church. We want to be the church of loving acceptance.
Expats and ‘furriners’ who’ve lived in Panama for many years, often find that they remain outsiders, effectively exiled from Panamanian life. There are people who work hard to overcome this, and then there are those of us who don’t bother. There are still some people in my husband’s family who don’t recognize me unless I’m next to Carlos. They DO remember that the tall gringa next to Carlos is his wife, (without a name attached). Hey, after all, I’ve only been here thirty five years and forty days… but who’s counting? The run-of-the-mill Panamanian has seen too many extranjeros who have been keen to take from Panama, rather than GIVE TO Panama. The result is that many natives harbor pride in “owning” the folklorico culture, and express surprise and reluctance to share with extranjero ‘invaders’ who are anxious to share in that patrimony.
At first glance, the big lesson of Panama seems to be that “NUTTIN’S EASY”. Panama has been the Crossroads of the world for a loooong time, and expats come and go. We toot our own horns, tell Panama how great we are, what gifts we bring, or how much we add to the economy; but you know what? That’s all just a bunch of hooey. That’s just self importance talking; it doesn’t help anybody. The Canal doesn’t dry up if we don’t get a chance to air our views, or promote our favorite ‘cause’. The land of our exile needs our actions, not our words.
It’s easy to look at the example of Namaan, and smile condescendingly. Poor guy, he believed his own press! He was impressed by his own military accomplishments, and thought that his importance made him due accolades and praise. He was such an important person in his own country, that he was angry and felt dismissed when he was given the EASY path to health. He felt that his importance was not sufficiently recognized.
Initially, he felt cheated, and he really was more interested in self-aggrandizement than he was in finding the cure for his illness. The scripture says “He went away in a rage”. There it is: the deadly combination of self-importance and believing his own press. (I think this great general might also have suffered testosterone poisoning, you know what that is, right?… too much machismo for his own good.) Then the king of Israel got HIS knickers in a twist, thinking only of HIMself, and said, speaking of the king of Aram, “Look at how he tries to pick a fight with me!” Self-importance, self-aggrandizement: poison, my friends. Namaan might have been a little too big for his britches, and believed his own press, but we can be pretty sure that he had no thoughts about making the search for a cure for his leprosy the basis for an international incident… neither he nor his king were interested in picking a fight with the King of Israel!
When we operate from the perspective of “nuttin’s easy”, we fail to VALUE things that ARE easy. What we NEED TO LEARN is how to see when the EASY WAY is G-d’s way. G-d gives us the easy way to do things… HIS way! Namaan had brave and sensible servants.
KINGS: 5:13 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’?» 5:14 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. 5:15c 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… “
…And Namaan the Gentile, the great Aramean General and Warrior, acknowledged the G-d of Israel, and transplanted that G-d to his own country. The G-d of Israel was taken beyond the borders of Israel, all the way to us here today, thanks to a HEATHEN, a gentile!
If Namaan hadn’t calmed down and ignored his need for pageantry, he would not have been able to exercise the prescription given to him: GO WASH IN THE RIVER JORDAN. How simple is that? Pretty easy, but first he had to forget his pride and his rage, and humble himself to accept the prescription. THERE IS NO ROOM ON G-D’S PATH FOR SELFISH SELF-AGGRANDIZING RAGE. That bears repeating… THERE IS NO ROOM ON G-D’S PATH FOR SELFISH SELF-AGGRANDIZING RAGE.
He could’ve stayed a prideful leper, but he chose to take a chance on being humble and generous, and he was healed. By exercising a ‘GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT’ and humbly following the prescription, Namaan was healed! Namaan’s self-importance and his rage were tied to his leprosy. When Namaan exercised a GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT, gave up his rage, and humbly followed the prescription, HE WAS HEALED. The River Jordan washed away his poisonous attitude as it washed away his leprosy. Pride vs. Generosity; Rage vs. Healing: there’s a lesson in there, folks.
Think about how Jeremiah, the ancient prophet tells us to live, and how we can forget our own importance and follow the EASY path that G-d gives us. Today’s AUTHENTIC professional ‘prophets’ (not the PC ones), give us the same prescription for happiness: volunteer and get involved. Put these together, and we can see the value of living in exile, and the EASY path to happiness, and to being “HOME”. This is confirmed for us in Matthew 11: 30: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We need to do more than just perch on this little isthmus, we need to LIVE here. We don’t need to reinforce what we see as shortcomings, we need to cut down on our complaints. Don’t complain! Get off your duff and go DO something! VOLUNTEER. We need to stop believing our own press. We need to think of how to present ourselves and our gifts for the benefit of the land of our exile.
Panamanians, don’t be in exile in your homeland, help the extranjero expats to appreciate the Panamanian psyche, and the Panamanian culture. EVERYBODY: Work on committees. Spend more than an hour a week putting energy into Balboa Union Church. Transplant your spiritual, intellectual and financial gifts to benefit where you ARE.
Remember Jeremiah: Pray to the Lord on behalf of Panama, on behalf of Balboa Union Church, on behalf of our ROOF!… for in their welfare, you will find YOUR welfare.
Remember Namaan: Tamp down the flames of your ego, let your spirit of generosity BLAZE! Take G-d’s EASY path: Pray for people in exile. Appreciate where you are. Wash in the waters of the Chagras. This is happiness; this is “HOME”.