The truth? You can’t handle the truth. That classic movie line was about the ugliness of the truth that helped to maintain comfort for the many by a few doing things that were ethically questionable. Often, the role of the prophet is shining a light in these dark corners to expose the truth. Sometimes the work of the prophet is to hold up the mirror of truth so the truth of the inner ugliness is revealed. Sometimes this is done with a clever twist like we saw in the story of Nathan’s parable getting King David to judge himself. Sometimes the mirror holder is more insistent that the reflection is seen, like Jesus’ table tipping and name-calling. In this week’s tale, Elisha is far more subtle in helping Namaan discover his inner sickness.
The message in this story is much more than skin deep. On the surface, it seems to be leprosy, but the disease really troubling Namaan involves his heart not his skin. Namaan knew that he was all that and a side of fries. He was so important in Syria that he couldn’t just go to a prophet in foreign land without having the kings of both countries get involved. In the process, he nearly starts a war, he’s just that big of a deal. Then when he gets to Elisha, he has his own preconceived notions about how the scene should play out, and of course he has the starring role.
How curious that when he does get the prescription to cure his leprosy it is an act too simple for him to consider. It takes his servants pointing out to him that if the prophet had sent him out to complete the tasks of Hercules, he would have gladly accepted the grand challenge. Instead, the simple task of dipping himself in a river seems to be beneath him, not fitting for a man of his stature. But the gift is in the simplicity, because the real source of his suffering is not his diseased skin, but his oversized ego. Leprosy would have been the first domino to fall in a series of events that would have taken away his position of power in Syria, ending with him being an outcast of society. Surely the thought of it was too much for him to bear, but Elisha knew that if Namaan’s body alone were restored that the really needed restoration of his spirit would be left undone. So a humbling task was in order. And that was just what the doctor ordered. When Namaan arose from the Jordan for the seventh time, more than his skin was made new.
The truth can be hard medicine to swallow and we all would surely prefer Mary Poppins and her spoon full of sugar than Nurse Rached’s screeching call to “Medication Time.” But prophets come in both of these guises and more as well. Sometimes purveyors of truth sound arrogant themselves though it is really just the truth talking.
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of Old South UCC in Kirtland, Ohio, where Darkwood Brew is used as a tool for ministry as church beyond walls. He has a YouTube channel called Bible Bytes, short video commentaries on the scripture lesson for the week.