He could literally feel the hum and crackle of celebrity magic. People thronged the street, chanting his name, waving, trying to touch him.
Naaman was a national military hero, Syria’s favorite son.
He hesitated at his front door, basking a bit longer in the warmth of the crowd’s accolades. It was a fragile euphoria. As soon as he closed the door behind him, the magic would wear off and chill reality would return. In the privacy of his bedroom he would once again be alone. With it.
“It” was a slowly worsening case of leprosy. For a long time he had managed to conceal most of it under his clothes. Gloves and shoes could hide the fingers and toes he had lost, but the leprosy had recently begun creeping up his neck.
It was there in the privacy of his room that this accomplished man knew self-loathing. The smell of his own decay repelled him.
He gingerly poured ointment over the ill-affected skin. Nothing had ever helped, though—neither spices nor potions, nor even the gods. The sores had only spread.
He was afraid and depressed. He knew the disease would eventually render him a monster. His carefully managed public image would deteriorate, along with the soft tissue of his face.
Worse, the illness would become his identity. He would stop being a great man with leprosy, and start being a leper. And he would die alone, shunned and pitied.
In the meantime, Naaman tried to enjoy the temporary fix of popularity. Maybe he could drown out his secret sorrow with more achievements, more chariot rides and parades. That was the only thing he knew to do, because the thing hidden under his cloak would never go away. Whenever the noise around him subsided, its deep, true voice would come. It seemed to say, Yes Naaman, hurry. Enjoy your fifteen minutes, because I’m coming. I won’t stop until I destroy you.
Infrequently overcome by the reminder, he cried like a helpless child.
But sometimes hope springs from the most insignificant source. One day Naaman’s Jewish servant girl said, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.”1
It might have sounded fantastic to Naaman that some obscure Jewish prophet could help him. But the young woman seemed so sure of it he found himself packing for the trip.
Within a short time he stood before the prophet Elisha, who told him, “Go, and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.”2
The command was the stupidest thing Naaman had ever heard. But what had he expected, anyway? The servant girl was an uneducated superstitious kid. Elisha was a quack prophet and his way of salvation was sheer foolishness. Whoever heard of a cure like that? Washing in a muddy river? It was humiliating for a man such as him to submit to that kind of silly ritual. Where was the challenge, the opportunity to prove his worthiness?
Naaman turned around and left, but his servants stopped him, saying, “If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash and be clean’? So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”3
An obscure Jewish man.
A simple set of instructions.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him
should not perish but have eternal life.
1 2 Kings 5:3
2 2 Kings 5:10
3 2 Kings 5:13-14