I don't know about you, but I'm not very good at asking for help.
When I broke my arm, quite badly as it happens, 6 months into my ministry here I was determined to carry on as usual, despite the complications of being unable to drive and, for much of the first couple of weeks being high on a splendid array of painkillers.
I didn't think I knew anyone in my churches quite well enough to say – Hey – this is really hard – and I, the one whose job is tied in with caring for others, really struggled to accept the support that I needed. I'll never forget how painful I found it when my teenaged son had to wash my hair...It gave me a foretaste of the dependence of old age and its frailty that I didn't welcome IN THE LEAST.
So – I have both sympathy and admiration for Namaan..that mighty warrior brought low by a disease that would, in many cultures, turn him into an outcast overnight.
Sympathy because he's an action man – a hero who comes and goes as he pleases, answering only to the king.
Admiration because he is willing to accept advice – from that most unlikely source, a teenage slave girl. In this situation, their roles are reversed. She, the helpless captive, holds the power of knowledge....and though she could have chosen to stand by in silence, she chooses to use that power to help
But things are never straightforward, are they?
Naaman is so used to going to the top that, having taken a deep breath and headed for Israel in response to the girl's advice, he goes straight for the top, with the King's encouragement sounding loudly in his ears.
Now it's the turn of another powerful man to find himself powerless...
The King of Israel is understandably alarmed to find his neighbour and long-time enemy, the King of Aram, making impossible demands.
He can see no good ending to this – for he knows he has no skill, no resources to heal a leper and expects a fresh outbreak of war before bedtime.
Fortunately, Elisha intervenes before war can be declared.
He takes the initiative, tells the King to send Namaan to him – and then offers him 7 simple steps to healing.
And therein lies the trouble.
For a powerful man to accept that the solution lies in doing something as ordinary and everyday as washing – and in a muddy foreign river at that – is well-nigh unthinkable.
And so Namaan very nearly misses the healing that is at hand...surely one of the earliest illustrations of that saying “Cutting off the nose to spite the face”
Again, I sympathise.
Nobody likes looking silly...and Elisha's prescription seems to call into question the gravity of Namaan's illness. OBVIOUSLY if leprosy washed off, he'd have had it sorted long ago...
Namaan has no reason to trust this so-called man of God, with his irritating refusal to meet him face to face and his idiotic idea that 7 baths in the Jordan will save the day. He has long relied on his own strength and the political clout he has earned. Why on earth should he consent to look a fool
But, once again, power lies in an unexpected quarter. It is Namaan's servants who use their persuasive talents to convince their master that he has nothing to lose.
“Give it a go. We KNOW you could and would take bigger risks, do difficult and dangerous things – so why not give this a try?”
And, perhaps surprisingly, Namaan agrees – and discovers that God can work through the most ordinary and unlikely things – that for him, on this day in this situation, the muddy waters of the Jordan are all he needs...or perhaps it is the lesson of obedient dependence that he needs most.
Either way, of course, he emerges cured – and his reaction is one of joyous gratitude and recognition of God at work.
He doesn't put it down to co-incidence.
He doesn't try to bluff it out
“Of course, I'd noticed that my skin was beginning to heal...”
He simply and immediately gives thanks and resolves to serve the God of Israel from now on.
Recognition of God at work...
That's surely significant in our gospel too.
10 lepers sent away – to claim in faith a healing that has yet to happen, as they go to the priest to be judged clean or unclean.
9 lepers so relieved to hear their wholeness confirmed that they immediately vanish into the daily lives restored to them by the action of one extraordinary man.
1 alone who stops to celebrate God at work...affirming His presence, rejoicing in his action. The fact that it is an outsider, a Samaritan, might give us pause...for sometimes it's those whom we'd imagine to be "outsiders" who have the deepest awareness of God, the most ready gratitude for his love.
Last week our Harvest thanksgiving brought to mind some words of Meister Eckhardt
“If the only prayer you ever utter is THANK YOU – that is enough”
Today's readings re-enforce that message – as they invite us to notice and to proclaim God's presence in the ordinary, his power in the unexpected, the mundane – that is transformed by His love.
I wonder what God wants to show us through the commonplace events of our lives, who he might send our way as agents of healing or change.
Stories like these tell us that any ground can be holy ground, any water can be healing and lifegiving, any stranger can be the prophet who says what we need to hear to change our lives.
But it's up to us to listen – and to look...to set aside our determined independence...and open ourselves to the God who works through the ordinary – through men and women, water and oil, bread and wine – and invites us to see the whole of Creation as a sacrament of His love.