LECTIONARY REFLECTION | 18th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

This week we’ll board a plane and take the kids to Disney World – the Magic Kingdom where all your dreams can come true with a little waving of the wand (and a lot of cash in your pocket)! If only “wishing upon a star” was all that was needed to drive away the pain and problems that await many who return home from a momentary Disney escape.

We’re all looking for shortcuts to happiness and quick fixes for pressing needs. Yet, the real cure for our soul’s afflictions is the childlike trust to take the medicine God has prescribed and to read the label on the bottle to make sure we take it in the proper way.

In the Old Testament reading this week from 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Naaman, a powerful general in the Army of Aram (Israel’s enemies) is afflicted with leprosy. Hearing about prophet Elisha’s divine power to heal, he takes a risk and sends for him. But notice how Naaman wants healing: he wants it quick, easy and on his own terms. 

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 all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. (2 Kings 5:10-12)

“Are you kidding me?” he seems to say. “He wants me to go to that river and wash seven times? Oh, come on! Why not this other river that’s closer? And I think one or two washes should suffice, right?” Naaman is suffering not only from leprosy but “wave the magic wand” spirituality. He admits it:  “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his handover the spot and cure me of my leprosy” (v. 11). Presto chango!

We do the same thing. Maybe if I just start going to church again regularly, God will restore my fortunes without getting too involved. Maybe if I just say this prayer and have enough faith, my marriage struggles will magically resolve themselves without needing to bother with seven or more counseling sessions. Maybe if I just give some money to the church, then God will wave his hand over my new business and blessings will come. Maybe I can kick this bad habit by waving a magic prayer wand over it, rather than have to take that seven week class confronting the seven disordered passions rooted in my heart.

The good news is that God doesn’t want to just lead us out of our current predicament; he wants to lead us onto the Good Path that can help prevent us from ending up in the same ditch again. What good is it to bring a drunk home from a bar with a stern look and wag of the finger, only to drop her off at a lonely apartment full of booze?  She needs a treatment center where she can learn the wise pathway and necessary steps that lead to freedom and sobriety.

After many years in ministry and trying to guide people onto the pathway to wisdom and spiritual transformation, I’m convinced some of the most important words ever to cross Jesus’ lips are his question to the paralytic:

“Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

In this scenario and many others, the point is that if we want to find the true freedom and joy — the “abundant life” (John 10:10) — God originally designed us for, then we need to accept responsibility for our part in securing it. This begins with surrendering to the wise counsel of God and coming under the care of those trained in spiritual guidance.

We need to not only pray and passively wait for our salvation, but to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) and “press on toward the goal” (Phil 3:14). Are we ready to get serious about the “Pilgrimage of the Soul” we each need to embark on if we are to be “brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21)?

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So, do we want to get healed? Do we really want to be free from our afflictions and disordered passions? If so, are we willing to humbly accept the Great Physician’s diagnosis and with simple childlike trust swallow the medicine He prescribes?

Remember, the journey to that river of life might be a long and difficult one, and you may need to return seven (or even seventy) times. Are we willing? Or will we be foolishly persist in waiting for God to “wave his hand over the spot”?

Jeremy Berg is the founding pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, Minnesota, and Professor of Theology at Solid Rock Discipleship School. Jeremy is completing his doctorate in New Testament Context under Dr. Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary in Chicago. He holds a M.A. in Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary (2005) and B.A. from Bethel University (2002). He and his wife, Kjerstin, keep busy chasing around three kids, Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

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