the penultimate WORD
Series 1998 - Proper 14 Canon Jim Irvine
When we are obedient in small things…


Namaan: now there was a leader! He was used to taking orders and giving orders. He took orders from the King, and, because he was a General, he gave important orders to those who served under him. That’s the way it worked, and he was accustomed to it.

But Namaan was also sick. He suffered from leprosy and the disease effected him very much. He sought for salves and ointments and eventually a cure of this dreaded dermatological disorder. But to no avail.

A servant suggested that he visit the Prophet of the Lord God: Elisha.

And that’s where the story turns!

The Prophet of God wouldn’t come out to see Namaan and to talk with him. Instead, he sent word out to the General with the instruction to "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean."

But Namaan wouldn’t do it.

He was slighted that this Prophet would not come out to see him, and, further, that was instructed to do such a simple thing as to bathe in the Jordan River seven times. It was beneath his dignity. Definitely beneath his dignity.

This General who had command of legions, he was used to taking weighty orders of some consequence.

Servants were for fetch water and for drawing a bath. And, besides, the Jordan was such an insignificant river!

There were mightier rivers at home. Why were they not sufficient for this task?

The General’s servant, recognizing his dilemma spoke up: "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?"

Don’t you just hate it when simple truth cuts as clean as a blade of a skilful surgeon? What was Namaan to do?

Well, first he had to swallow his pride. That was the first step. And the most difficult. Any crisis of faith can usually be traced to this. It’s a blemish we all have, and one we try to hide as best we can.

Sometimes we cloak our pride in humility. But often our self-effacement is closer to false humility.

Namaan had to learn that. And we have to learn it too. Seems we all do.

It is true that Namaan was a great General. And it’s true, too, that he was insulted by the Prophet’s direction. But Namaan confused humiliation with humility and he did not have courage enough to recognize the difference!

His servant was able to help him here. Challenged to reconsider his decision, Namaan went and bathed in the Jordan seven times. And he was clean!

"Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel," responded this great man. He became all the more memorable because of his change of heart. The General, Namaan sets us an example here.

We are a lot like Namaan. Sometimes we are only willing to do great things for God. The ordinary is simply out of the question. If we were asked to build a cathedral, we’d be there and roll our sleeves up without a moment’s hesitation.

But that’s more the exception than the rule. Sometimes we are asked to do great things. But more often than not, we are asked to do simple things. Small things. Every day things.

Jesus, the last night he spent with his disciples, told them that he had a new commandment for them: That they were to love one another. Just as they had experience Jesus’ love in their lives, so they were to love one another.

We are called to love one another, to forgive one another, to encourage one another.

If we have the courage to do that, we will discover what Namaan discovered. If we have the humility to do that, we’ll discover great blessing.

That’s why Namaan’s story is helpful for us today. When we are obedient in small things we will discover… our personal sense of restored wholeness… and through that, we’ll gain the insight of the greatness of the God of Israel!

Copyright © 1998 James T. Irvine

Series 1998