In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Epiphany 6B

Reflection on 2 Kings 5:1-19. by Sarah Rogers

No-one is more confused about which readings we are supposed to be using this week than I am. My lectionary says one thing and another. I think the confusion arises because Easter is relatively early and depending on which bit of the lectionary you look at you find different readings. So my apologies if you are not using this passage on Sunday, but the passage from 2 Kings listed by grabbed my attention. They list 2 Kings 5:1-14 as the Old Testament reading, but I have extended it slightly to round off the story.

This is the story of how Elisha cured Naaman of his leprosy; it grabbed my attention because of the key role played by two un-named women, Naaman’s wife and her maid servant. The maid servant is a captive, an Israelite, and all that we know about her is contained in just a few words. It is these characters in the bible that really capture the imagination: Who was she? What had she suffered when she was captured? Was she valued in the house of Naaman? We know next to nothing about her, but we learn a lot about Naaman. And yet, it is this un-named maidservant that has such a key role in getting him cured of his leprosy.

So, what do we know about her? She was a slave in Assyria, ‘brought away captive out of the land of Israel’. Presumably she was captured during an attack by Assyria. We don’t know what happened to her family; presumably they were killed or captured as well. She ended up in the slave market where she was bought into the service of Naaman. So this girl was torn from her family and taken into another country. She may not have known whether her family were alive or dead, she must have been terrified. And despite the terror she must have gone through she held on to her faith in Yahweh, her faith was her last hope.

She was perhaps lucky to be chosen by Naaman to serve his wife; she could have ended up working in the fields. It seems she admired Naaman, ‘a mighty man of valour’, and it seems likely that her mistress confided in her, they talked. It is clear that her mistress must have had some respect for her faith, otherwise she would not have considered telling Naaman about the prophet, and so is likely that the maid servant felt able to talk about her faith to her mistress. Whatever their relationship, the maid servant knew about Naaman’s skin condition and her faith made her name the prophet that might cure him. She had a deep faith in her God, and knew that if Naaman turned to her God he would be cured. Despite all that has happened to her through her captivity she has remained faithful to God and this faith has an impact on Naaman’s wife, how else would Naaman be convinced that he should seek out Elisha for a cure?

In the end, Naaman took the advice of his wife’s maid servant and went to the king, and Elisha was sought out. Naaman seeks out Elisha in great pomp, rolling up to the door with his horses and chariots. He is disappointed to be met by a messenger from Elisha, telling him what he must do to be cured, that is no way to treat such a great man. Elisha’s instructions are not impressive either, he has to go and bath in the dirty river Jordan. As far as Naaman is concerned Elisha is in control of his God, he is only a local deity. But, eventually he does what Elisha has told him to do and is cured, and that is enough to convince him of the supremacy of the God of Israel. So, he takes soil back to his own country and worships the God of Israel, although acknowledging that there will be times when he will be required to worship other gods.

How would the maid servant have felt about this? She was responsible for sending Naaman to Elisha and as a result her master was now worshipping her God and has brought back soil from her own country in order to have a little bit of Israel in Assyria. Naaman has acknowledged what the people of Israel already knew, that their God was the God of the whole world and Naaman had only achieved greatness because he had been favoured by the God of Israel.

This is a fascinating story, ultimately it is the faith of the maid servant that holds this story together, whatever trials she has been through in her capture she remains faithful to God and passes on his message to Naaman’s wife, her faith is pure and is fulfilled as she brings her master to worship her God. She reminds us that however insignificant we may be, however isolated we are, we just need to keep doing what little we can. Through faith in God we can achieve change greater than we could possibly imagine.

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