Self-Importance, Grace, and 2 Kings 5.15-27

Alexander the Great conquered the civilized world from the Mediterranean Sea to India. In fifteen years of conquest he never lost a battle. His exploits ushered in the Hellenistic Age, which became the cultural oxygen of much of the Bible. Alexander the Great changed the world single-handedly, however, in the end there was a final enemy he could not vanquish. He conquered the whole world, but could not conquer himself.  Welcome to the story of a lost servant of God in 2 Kings 5.15-27.

The story of Naaman is multi-layered. Just when it appears to end at Naaman’s healing, it surprisingly continues with Elisha’s servant Gehazi. This twist turns the plot in an unexpected direction. Is the point of the story found in Naaman or Gehazi? Who is ultimately being addressed by the text, un-churched people like Naaman or churched folks like Gehazi?

Look at the story’s opening in verse 1, Naaman is “a leper.” Now, look at the story’s ending in verse 27, Gehazi became “a leper.” God’s message is startling: everyone is a leper, including servants of God. In other words, everyone is unclean and therefore in need of cleansing, not just un-churched people.

What happens when churched people do not feel their own need for cleansing? The text’s answer is they become self-important. After Naaman’s healing, he is a changed man. This is why he refers to himself as a “servant” of God and others five times in the story. In other words, Naaman now serves God and others instead of only serving himself. Gehazi, however, believes in God, reads his Bible, and goes to church regularly, but instead of serving others he takes from others, literally: “This Syrian, I will get something from him” (verse 20). The word “take” is associated eight times with Gehazi in this story. In other words, self-important people take from others instead of give to others. What a plot twist! Naaman, the un-churched person, becomes a servant of God and others, while Gehazi, the churched person, only serves himself.

What does Gehazi need in order to break-out of the prison of self-importance? Notice, being told he is a spiritual leper is not enough. Certainly he has heard about his sin many times as a servant of Elisha the prophet! Gehazi needs to be shown he is a sinner. Watch what happens at the end of the story (verse 27): “Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you (Gehazi) and to your descendants forever. So he (Gehazi) went out from his presence a leper, like snow.” Gehazi now knows he is a leper. We can be told over and over again that “all sin and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3.23), but until it hits home in the heart these are empty words. Therefore, God in his great mercy wakes us up to our true condition.

Notice how the story simply ends. We do not know what happens to Gehazi. We do not know because the story is not over. The ending is an invitation to all of us: wake up to your spiritual leprosy and find healing in the grace of God in Jesus and his salvation. Do you see the exchange between Naaman and Gehazi in verse 27? Naaman’s leprosy transfers to Gehazi an Israelite. This points to a greater exchange. Where our spiritual leprosy “clings to” the better Gehazi, the perfect and pure Israelite, so we can be cleansed. Now, be a servant of God and serve others back to life again.