Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Missing Grace

In today’s reading from the Old Testament (2 Kings 5:19-27), the story of Naaman shifts into the story of Gehazi. Once Elisha had bid farewell to the Syrian general, refusing to accept any of his gifts of silver, gold, or festal garments, Naaman turned and started back toward his home country. His encounter in Israel had been an overwhelming moment of grace. He had been cleansed from his leprosy through a clear, simple, and powerful act of God. The fact that the prophet had not accepted any payment for the healing underscored God’s role in the transaction.

Gehazi, however, didn’t want to let the opportunity pass by without receiving some sort of remuneration. When Elisha wasn’t looking, Gehazi followed Naaman, and requested on behalf of his master some of the wealth which had been intended for Elisha. Naaman was eager to oblige. When he returned home, Gehazi hid the booty, but he was unable to escape Elisha’s notice. “Where have you been, Gehazi?” he asked. “Your servant went nowhere,” Gehazi lied. It was too late. The plot was discovered. In the end, Elisha commanded that Naaman’s leprosy befall Gehazi and his descendants, and immediately he turned white as snow.

I think the power of this story is in the transmittal of the leprosy from Naaman to Gehazi. More than a punishment for Gehazi’s deceit, the illness represents a separation from God and from God’s community. When he was cleansed, Naaman became a follower of God, renouncing any other god in the universe. By following after the general and asking for ill-gotten wealth, Gehazi had misinterpreted the divine healing as an interaction between a prophet and a foreigner. He failed to see that what had actually taken place was an exchange between the Almighty and one of his new-found children. By trying to put a price on that, Gehazi had bastardized a holy moment. He had blinded himself to God’s grace. And so that which had become the means by which Naaman recognized the identity of the one, true God became the means by which Gehazi would be cut off forever.

There’s danger in missing a holy moment and counting that which is sacred as profane. That’s not because God will punish us for missing his presence in our lives. Instead, if we bury our heads in the sand of worldliness, it becomes impossible for us to even recognize when God is acting in the world and in our lives. Gehazi’s leprosy reminds us that God is working to disclose himself and his love to the world in countless ways. If we chose to tune out, we run the risk of cutting ourselves off from an awareness of that love.

No comments:

Post a Comment