The commander of a great army stands with all his chariots and horses at the door of the prophet of the lowly and backward kingdom he disdains. He has come with much wealth, hoping to entice this man to heal him. For Elisha has a thing the great general needs. Despite all his might, his cunning, his wealth, and his powerful connections, Namaan cannot cure himself of leprosy.
Elisha does not even come out and greet this powerful man. How humiliating for Namaan! And the cure the prophet proposes is ludicrous. What is the Jordan River but a little stream in a desert land? How could there be any benefit in washing in it seven times? Namaan is furious! He has come a long way with much effort only to hear such a preposterous thing!
I like Namaan for his willingness to listen to his servants. He pays attention to what they have to say, and they in turn love him enough to call him on his arrogance. The servants say, “Get over yourself and just try it.” And Namaan humbles himself, listens, gets past his anger and his sense of his own importance.
Think about the flexibility and maturity involved in saying, “Maybe I am wrong and they are right.” How often do each of us say about fundamental understandings, “maybe I am wrong and they are right?”
Namaan is rewarded; he gets a new skin. His skin – the bag in which his organs, nerves and muscles are held – the sense organ that perceives heat and chill, prodding and caress – the part of him by which he is recognized and often judged – is made new.
This makes me think of snake skins. In the garden I sometimes find them, empty and fragile, still retaining the shape of the creature that shed them. They are the discarded form of something that has grown beyond them. In our dreams snakes often symbolize transformation.
The Jordan River is the place of baptism. John the Baptizer meets Jesus there. Like Namaan, we must shed our clothing and enter that river. We must leave on the shore all the certainties, values, and trophies we have acquired and walk naked into that holy water. It will throw us into turmoil as it unbinds our understanding of what is so. What if what I believe is wrong? What if I don’t really know? What if the ideas and constructs I’ve built over all these years are somehow faulty? What if?
Our reward for going all the way in – seven times in – will be a new skin, soft and supple as the skin of a young boy. Our rigid prejudices, the calluses of our too-narrow experiences, the leprosy we have acquired through exposure to a culture sick to its very core with narcissism will be transformed. We will be bigger, wiser – and more supple.
Oh, Beloved, leave your chariots and your armies behind and come down with me to the river of God. Let us strip ourselves of every certainty and bathe.
From wikimedia, photo by Jean Housen, 23 September, 2010