Greatness, Naaman, and 2 Kings 5.1-14

During my Saturday morning liturgy of watching College Gameday on ESPN, a car commercial came on. The music and images were inspiring. I wanted not only the car, but also to be the kind of guy who buys that car. What was the message, the selling point? “Be inspiring! Spread your wings! Be extraordinary!” 2 Kings 5.1-14 says it this way, everyone struggles to be extraordinary.

“Naaman…was a great man” (verse 1). Even the Bible says so. In the world of Naaman, Syria and Israel hate each other (not much has changed today). However, both sides have currently cooled it. They limit their hostilities to border skirmishes rather than all out war. The text hints that the reason for this foreign policy is largely due to the impressive qualities and achievements of Field Marshall Naaman.

However, the last word in verse 1 is brutal – “But the mighty man of valor was a leper.” “Leper” signals something fundamentally wrong about Naaman. It is saying, “But the man who has it all is falling to pieces,” literally. With this twist in the story, the Bible signals a powerful underlying motive behind the struggle to be extraordinary. The attempt to overcome a more primal spiritual leprosy called Sin.

Notice, how the struggle to be extraordinary creates a false sense of self in Naaman (verse 1): “Naaman…was a great man…because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria.” Naaman is thinking, “I’m a great man because I do great things.” But the Bible says, God gave Naaman his impressive qualities and achievements by His grace.

How do we know Naaman possess a false sense of self? Well, when Naaman learns of a healer in Israel named Elijah, he goes to him. But Elijah fails to see how impressive Naaman is. Naaman rages to his servants, “Behold, I thought to me he would surely come” (verse 11). “To me” is not only in the center of the sentence, but also Naaman’s world.

There are, however, snapshots of real greatness in this story. They all involve the “servants” in this story. There is the captured Israelite girl whose life is ruined by Field Marshall Naaman during a raid into Israel. Rather than make Naaman pay for his sins (“I hope that <%#/^~! dies piece by painful piece!”), she forgives him and longs for him to be healed – “Oh that my lord would see the prophet that is in Israel!” (verse 3). Who does this? The answer from this story is a servant, someone free from self-importance.

How can we be healed from self-importance, freed from the struggle to be extraordinary? “But his servants came near and said to him, ‘My father, it is a great word (interesting choice of words!) the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?’” (verse 13). Naaman finally learns there are great things that only God can do. Therefore, Naaman “went down into the water.” Or as the text picture, Naaman went down into the great words of the prophet. Naaman is healed by the great words of the prophet. Naaman’s struggle to be great ends in the great words of the prophet. Later as the greater prophet who speaks greater words, Jesus tells this story of Naaman to heal us of spiritual leprosy, free us from self-importance, give us the greatness we are looking for.