Faith and Reason
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Faith and Reason
Dr. Randy L. Hyde
Sometimes, I think we tend to believe that if a religious experience isn’t mystical, it isn’t really religious… that to be validated it has to be accompanied by spiritual goose bumps. Sometimes, the goose bumps are there, but it’s plain old common sense that gets you to that point. Just ask Naaman.
Carolyn read the story awhile ago from the Old Testament book we call 2 Kings. In the land of Aram there was a great and powerful man named Naaman. He was commander of the king’s army, and had won battle after battle for his master. Naaman was a mighty warrior, but there was a major chink in his armor. Naaman was a leper. In that day, and in that culture, it just didn’t get much worse than that.
On one of their previous raids, Naaman’s army had captured an Israelite girl. She tells her master there is a prophet in Samaria who could cure him of his leprosy. Terminal illness will drive people to do almost anything to be healed, which is why Coretta Scott King died recently in a Mexican clinic. She was seeking an alternative approach, unavailable in the United States, in dealing with her cancer. Naaman goes to his king and tells him what the servant girl has said. The king of Aramea, who values his army general, immediately dictates a letter to the king of Israel, introducing him to Naaman and telling him what he wants. Donkeys are laden down with silver, gold, and fine garments. They are gifts for the one who can help Naaman be cured of his terrible affliction.
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The king of Israel, with the paranoia that comes from being weak, thinks it’s a political ploy, an excuse for the Arameans to come and plunder Israel again. He knows he has no military might with which to repel such an attack. But when Elisha the prophet hears of Naaman’s visit, he sends for him. Send him to me, he says, “…so you may learn there is a prophet in Israel.” Yet, when Naaman parks his entourage at the entrance to Elisha’s house, the prophet doesn’t even bother to get out of his Lazy Boy recliner. He sends his servant with specific instructions. “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”
“What?! Wait a minute. Wait just a minute. We’ve got rivers in Aramea that are cleaner than your filthy Jordan River. Why, the Abana and the Pharpar in Damascus are far better than anything you’ve got here in Israel!” He didn’t so much speak the words as he spat them. You can see his blood begin to boil and the sores on his skin turn even redder. Naaman may be sick, and he may be desperate to be healed – desperate enough to come to this God-forsaken country in the first place – but this is just too much. So Naaman turns his powerful steed (It has to be a steed. He is an army general, you know.), commands his servants to do the same, and starts to head back home.
Despite his leprosy, Naaman is a powerful man. Power begets influence, and influence begets ego. His illness may have humbled him to a certain degree, but his humility has its limits. Naaman has definitely reached his limit with the so-called prophet from Samaria.
And that is when Naaman’s servants prevail upon him with their collective wisdom. These words indeed are some of the wisest counsel in all of scripture, yet were spoken by people who did not believe in Elisha’s God, nor yours and mine. But when it comes right down to it, the advice is just plain old common sense. Do you think that maybe God can speak just as much in common sense as in holy scripture?
“Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
In other words, they ask him, “What do you have to lose? So you take a bath in muddy water… you can rinse it off when we get back home. Who knows, it might just work.”
It is one thing to have reasonable people around you. It is quite another to follow their advice. In his case, fortunately, and to his credit, Naaman was a reasonable man himself… at least reasonable enough to let common sense prevail over his ego and anger. He followed the counsel of his servants, dipped himself seven times in the Jordan River, and went home with skin as clean and soft as a baby’s. All because he decided to be reasonable and to follow some good advice.
Jesus’ disciples were being reasonable. According to Mark’s gospel, it is early in Jesus’ public ministry. He has performed a few miracles, enough to whet his disciples’ collective appetites. They like following Jesus, being associated with Jesus, being known as his best friends and helpmates. So, when he goes off to be by himself to a deserted place to pray, they come and find him. “Everyone is searching for you,” they tell him.
Those of you who are or have been parents, how many times have your children come to you and said, “Everybody’s doing it” or “Everybody’s going” or “Everybody has one”? I once had a colleague who, when his children hit him with that one, always said, “Name three.” He nailed them every time.
But in this case, Jesus’ disciples may have just been right. Everyone, including the disciples, want a little piece of Jesus. But, wasn’t it reasonable to take advantage of his popularity while he still has it? Everyone knows that fame is fleeting (What is it they say, that you get fifteen minutes of it?), so grab it while you can.
We all know, however, that Jesus has a different agenda, and it will be a long time before his disciples catch on to it.
Shortly after this incident Jesus comes upon a leper who begs him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” So what does Jesus do? Something no other person would ever do. He stretches out his hand and touches the man.
It is not one of your plain old garden-variety miracles. By touching the man and rendering him clean of his illness, Jesus takes his uncleanness unto himself. This man, once forced to live away from other people, can now be with his people. But because he touches the man, Jesus, according to Mark, “…could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country…” It isn’t just because his fame is spreading, and he wants to avoid the adulation. Jesus, by touching the leper, has made himself unclean. Jesus and the leper have traded places.
And the disciples stand there, no doubt, gasping. “This doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t reasonable. Why would Jesus do such a thing?”
Sometimes, when it comes to faith, you do the reasonable thing. But sometimes you don’t. You don’t test the waters to see how deep, or how clean, they are. You just jump in. Wisdom is knowing when to do the right thing at the right time in the right place.
In just a moment we will be coming to the Lord’s Table. Here you will find the bread and the cup, symbols of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. I want you to ask yourself if it makes sense that Jesus did what he did by not only touching the leper but then taking the sins of the world upon his shoulders. Is it reasonable that we allow such mundane things as this tiny piece of bread and this small cup of grape juice to represent such eternal realities? Is there common sense at the Lord’s Table? Would it be reasonable not to come to the table?
The answer you give to that question just may be what leads to faith. I’ll leave it up to you to determine if it makes sense for you.
Lord, as we come to your Table, find us willing to do what you want, whether we consider it reasonable or not. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Copyright 2006, Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.