THE WORD WITH Rev. Fr. Anthony Mario OZELE PhD
SURPRISED BY GOD
2 Kings 5:1-15
In our church, people confess their faith and then they’re baptized in the water. Naaman comes out of the water a new man and then confesses his faith. Naaman’s experience of healing and restoration leads to his confession of faith in the Lord. God initiated the whole process of salvation for Naaman and for us.
God healed and cleansed Naaman when he did what he was told without understanding anything of the mystery of the experience. Titus 3:4-5 says, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Even when Naaman proclaimed his faith, it was simplistic, inadequate, and not without distractions or hesitation. Elisha didn’t condemn him because his understanding was far from mature and his commitment was not yet one hundred percent commitment at this early stage. Elisha sends him away with a blessing, “Go in peace!” There was room for grace in Elisha’s theology and there should be in ours as well.
If we keep reading 2 Kings 5, after verse 15 we learn that Elisha’s servant Gehazi is not gracious, he is disdainful, greedy and opportunistic and he tries to profit from Naaman’s illness, desperation, and gratitude. He puts a squeeze on Naaman to profit himself and ends up instead with a terrible case of leprosy. In every age there are people looking to use the name of the Lord to enrich themselves – this story is a stern warning against such ungodly behavior. What a contrast to the young, unnamed woman who even though she was a captive in a foreign land, she remained faithful while the right hand man of Elisha was corrupt and the king of Israel was despairing and fearful.
This story also highlights the inclusivity of God’s saving activity. God gives victory (the Hebrew word also means “deliverance” or “salvation”) to Naaman as a General. It appears to be God’s will to bring salvation to Naaman, even though Naaman was not among God’s chosen people. There is an ironic reversal in the story: the Gentile, Syrian commander is restored, while the Israelite Gehazi, the servant of the prophet is cursed. Jesus points to this story to justify the inclusivity of his own ministry in Luke 4:25-30. “But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, & none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian. When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Luke 4:25-30
Just as the prophet Elijah ministered to a Phoenician widow of Zarephath when there was a terrible famine, and Elisha shared the mercy of God to Naaman the Aramean, Jesus also proclaimed the good news to outcasts and outsiders and even healed those with leprosy which was a surprise. When God shows up unexpected things often happen that may make us anxious. Has the Holy Spirit caught you by surprise lately? Has He unveiled to you a deeper understanding of the person of Jesus Christ? He always speaks through His inspired Word, the Scriptures. It is His desire to “guide us into all truth . . . He will show you things to come” (John 16:13).
On the first Easter Sunday morning Mary Magdalene was surprised to see that the 2000-pound stone door to the tomb of Jesus was “already taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1). A little while later, Jesus met the women and greeted them. “And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshipped Him” (Matthew 28:9). The apostle John tells us Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping, and as she wept, she saw two angels who asked her, “Why are you weeping?” She turned around and “beheld Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. He asked her the same question, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” She was quite surprised, “Supposing Him to be the gardener.” Jesus called her by name. After fully recognizing Jesus she ran and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:11-18).
Jesus surprised the startled disciples that same evening when the doors to their meeting room were shut. “Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to then, ‘Peace be with you’” (v. 19). On that same day on the road to Emmaus two disciples invited a stranger and much to their surprise as He broke bread and blessed it, “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:30-32). Over and over again for the next forty days Jesus surprised the disciples for joy with His appearances until He ascended up into the clouds and was received into heaven. The ascension attempts to put into words what is beyond words, and describes what is beyond description.
What a surprise in the upper room when the day of Pentecost had fully come, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was given them utterance” (Acts 2:4). What a surprise to see and hear Peter preach the greatest sermon in his life on the atoning death of Jesus and His resurrection. Three thousand souls were saved that day (vv. 37-41). The disciples spoke with boldness and great power giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (4:31-33, etc.).
The Holy Spirit surprised Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus after he consented to the death of Stephen who “being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 8:55). Saul was suddenly surprised when he saw “a light from heaven flash around him . . . and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:3-4). Jesus responded, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (v. 5).
God loves to surprise us. Has He surprised you lately? Do you give Him “elbow-room”? Do you look for Him? Do you expect Him to break in upon you any moment? Don’t expect Christ to come to you only in a certain way. Lay aside any preconceived ideas of how He should come to you. Expect Him to come any moment, any hour, at the least expected time in your day.
God is always at work in His surprise visits. He comes at His perfect timing. Keep your heart tender toward Him so that if He catches you unawares you will know you are in His presence. Always be in a state of expectancy. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Be ready at all times for the Lord’s surprise visits. “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so, Amen” (Revelation 1:7). Lord, Jesus will I see You today? Even so, come.
Naaman had quite a story to share with his wife and family as well; can you imagine their reunion? I’ll bet the servant girl got a raise. What about us? What can we share with others about what the Lord has done for us and how we have at times been surprised by God.
Questions for Reflection or Discussion
1. If you had to choose, would you say you’re a person who likes and enjoys surprises, or do you prefer to know what’s coming?
2. There are all kinds of diseases and afflictions that might strike us while we live. If you could pick one disease or illness and know you’d never get it, which one would you pick and why?
3. A close reading of the story of Naaman, the Syrian General, in 2 Kings 5 reveals that it contains a number of surprises. What do you find surprising in this story?
4. What does this story teach us about faith? Which character(s) show(s) the most faith in God to be able to heal and act in the world? Which one(s) seem(s) to have the least faith in God’s power? Is that surprising?
5. Why is Naaman mad when he is told to go wash in the Jordan River? What do you think he was expecting?
6. Why do you think Jesus used this story in his sermon in Luke 4:20-30?
7. What does Naaman’s story teach us about the breadth of God’s love and what does that mean for us?