Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
5 November 2011
“What is it about this oil that you have that will cure me?”
There; I had said it and said it aloud for the priest to hear. “What is it about this oil that you have that will cure me?” My inner Naaman, though nameless to me, had stepped out of the shadows and was right there for the two of us to see. For my part, I was proud of that Naaman, for that Naaman kept me me and not another. It was the other I feared, I suppose. I can only guess what the priest thought.
At the time I was a sophomore in college. I had been to the doctor—several doctors in fact—to discover the cause of the dizzy spells that were plaguing me at some inopportune times. I remember once being overcome with dizziness while I sped westward on Interstate 40 midway between Nashville and Memphis. That was scary.
When dizziness hits, reason flies out the window. Contrary to all reason, I once held onto the bed where I was lying, because the sensation that I might be thrown off of it could not by reason be put down.
Ah, Naaman, you found yourself to be a significant exemplum of Jesus’ teaching at the synagogue in Nazareth at the Eucharist on Monday in Lent 3, when he says, “There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27), and where Jesus’ point seems to be that God will have a relationship with whom God will have a relationship: forget the boundaries of the religion or the nation.
And, Naaman, you also are the anti-hero of the Eucharist on Epiphany 6 in Year B when in the Gospel a leper approaches Jesus, kneels before him, and says, “If you choose, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). This leper, not Naaman, enters his healing with the faithful assumption that God can and will cure him: not a bad place to begin.
Naaman is the commander of the Syrian (or Aramean) army in 2 Kings 5. The Lord favors him even to the extent that he gives Naaman victories over Israel. And an Israelite captive suggests to Naaman that a prophet in Israel could cure him of his leprosy. Naaman goes to the prophet, gets his prescription from a messenger that he wash seven times in the Jordan River, and Naaman is enraged.
“I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:11-12).
Naaman not only has the leprosy; he knows how the prophet is to go about curing him. And Naaman found a home in me. Not only did I have the dizzy spells, but I knew the priest’s oil couldn’t cure them. Germ-theory was my Gospel.
Such assurance and certainty in one so inexperienced and so unfamiliar with the ways of God must have given the priest pause. But, whatever he was thinking or feeling, what he said was this: “You’re right. The oil won’t cure you. But God can cure you if you open yourself up to God’s healing.” Accepting the oil, I saw, was an instrument to use to give a message to God: you can be God, and you can cure me.
I cannot recall whether I had another dizzy spell after the anointing, but certainly there were not many. The dizziness never found a diagnosis though the doctors eliminated some frightening prospects. And I had learned that being in God’s hands was the place where I most wanted to be. It would be years before my first reading of Naaman’s story.