Naaman and the Parable of Academic Theology

In a couple of weeks I will be preaching on 2 Kings 5:1-19.  This is the story of Naaman a great commander of the army of Aram.  Naaman, however, is a leper.  In one of his conquests Naaman captures a ‘small girl’ who ends up as a servant for Naaman’s wife.  As the small girl sees Naaman’s affliction she says that Naaman should send word to the prophet in Samaria and he would heal him.  This is Naaman’s initial posture.  By almost all accounts he is a man of status and power and yet he is afflicted in such a way that everything is tainted.  In that position he is able to hear from the ‘small girl’ who in every way is his contrast.

Once Naaman hears of this possibility he does not send word to the prophet but immediately reverts to the ‘appropriate’ channels.  He sends word to the king.  He brings a large sum of money.  He travels with horses and chariots.  And the king of Israel upon hearing word tears his clothes.  What can he do for this powerful man?  Surely Naaman is trying gain some advantage through this encounter.  Naaman must a shrewd and clever dialogue partner looking for advantage in this relationship.  But Elisha the prophet simply asks that Naaman come and see him.  So Naaman arrives at the entrance of the prophet’s home with all his pomp and procession.  But Elisha does not even greet Naaman.  Instead he sends his messenger to tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed.  Naaman is infuriated by this action.  He goes on to describe what he imagined should have happened.  Elisha should have come out to greet him and standing their he would call on the name of his God and wave his hand and heal him.  The scene again is one in which the grandness of the result should be accomplished by a grand action.  There should be a proportional relationship.

This story reminded me of my academic development.  I began post-secondary education as though listening to a ‘small girl’.  I had a felt need and desire that this process could be a work of healing or restoration (it was all of course more convoluted than that but for the sake of contrast it is not entirely inaccurate).  Perhaps it did not happen as quickly as with Naaman but I began veering off course away from the prophet and towards the king.  This path called for a demonstration, a pageantry displaying the validity of my presence and purposes.  I saw around me that small and simple acts were inadequate.  One needed to call on the name of rigorous thinkers and wave the hand dense and nuanced argumentation.

Of course this parable falls apart on any number of levels.  Any Naaman could come across this post and demonstrate its inadequacies.  But it is only an attempt to begin writing in the spirit of a ‘small girl’.    There are many important things going on among important people who are able to sustain important discourses.  And these things are important as they affect many people.  I, however, suspect I have plugged the ears that once heard small things. I no longer know where the Jordan River is and I may not even have the patience to wash seven times in it.  And to what end would that accomplish in any event?  Naaman was convinced and he washed himself.  What happened?  His flesh became like that of a ‘small boy’.  This is no cult of beauty.  This is a reversion or a return to a way discounted by our culture.  It is a path not noticed.  A path not seen.

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One comment on “Naaman and the Parable of Academic Theology

  1. Maxwell says:

    I’m preaching on that same verse on July 4th and I appreciate that you could find any meaning in it at all.

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