Third Sunday after the Epiphany: 2 Kings 5, Matthew 8
When something goes wrong we expect instant perfection. Sure we understand the need for patience, at least in theory; but in practice it is often quite lacking. We want the instant miracle, the quick fix. We would like every problem in our life to conclude like our Gospel reading, “and the servant was healed at that very moment.”
This extends beyond our desire for quick fixes, we want everything to move on be over with quickly. We hardly take in the magnitude, grandeur, or beauty that is happening in the moment. It is true of our daily life where just after eating a meal we are contemplating what will be the next, before the movie or show is over we are pondering our next happenings, and even as God comes among us we want to rush the narrative of His Word along and move on with our day.
It’s part and parcel of our life to want instant perfection and remain ungrateful for experience and the relationship that develops with experience. It’s like when I was kid and worked with my dad on just about any project. He could accomplish it easier without my “help” for sure. Mom could get dinner together more efficiently without much “help” too. It may even have been better quality. But you know, some of those imperfections were part of the story, part of the narrative. Dad seemed to always catch his limit when out fishing alone, but at times some were missed when tending to a tangled line or releasing a famous “tree-bass” that was reeled in.
Give a child a paint brush and a bucket of paint and he’ll know what to do, but you better have good preparation and enough extra for an another coat afterward. If it was always about perfection and not about the experience and relationship we’d go about many things differently in life. In many ways it is a patient relationship that is required.
Yet, how often do we have the expectation of instant perfection. We cry out for God’s mercy in times of trouble and expect Him to raise up His hand and deliver us immediately. But then we would miss out on the experience that is so vital to our faith and life.
This is what Naaman needed to learn. Our Old Testament account shows what can happen with a little patience and value of experience to cultivate a relationship. Naaman expected to be cured of leprosy. When told to go wash seven times in Jordan however, when it doesn’t happen immediately nor in the way he thought it should happen he walks away angry. “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand the place and cure the leper.” Notice, Naaman doesn’t even acknowledge the Lord as the one, true God, but rather just Elisha’s God. He then moves on to what we often think, that our way is best, that we know what is best for ourselves. Naaman presumes to know what waters would cleanse him rather than trust what was given to him from the Word of the Lord.
Naaman would be persuaded to go to the Jordan however. He would go through the patient steps of washing seven times and be healed. It is the patient relationship, the experience, that brings forth not the miracle of the healing of leprosy but the greater miracle of the bringing of Naaman to faith in the Lord. Naaman was right, the other waters were cleaner, Elisha could have done as he expected and if the Lord desired he would have been instantly healed. It was not waters of the Jordan that were miraculous, nor was there a magic formula for washing seven times to clean leprosy (or else many others would have simply done the same), but it was the promise of the Word of God given through Elisha that cleansed and restored.
God’s patient relationship with us rejoices that God works through ordinary means to provide miracles. Imagine how at first we’d be happy to have God instantly fix all our problems. An arctic blast comes through and it warms to whatever your perceived ideal temperature is, a few dry days brings forth not just rain but perfect and abundant crops, a small cough and we have instant strength and healing. But then, our sin would still creep forth. We’d complain that we never had the chance to grow in experience ourselves, we’d complain that God fixed only the little things as other things didn’t arise.
When troubles in this life come, let them run their course. Not idly by, run to the Lord in prayer. But trust the process, treasure the relationship and experience, and receive the Lord’s answer even when it is not what we expect or desire. But know, he is working for your good. He will heal you, He will bring you through every trouble, He will perform the miracle of life that you so desperately want and need.
The King of Israel had it right when Naaman first arrived with the letter, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive?” We do not have authority over life and death, no matter what we proclaim as legal or no matter how we want to redefine life or seek to provide excuse and exception. The miracle that we receive is not always as we would have it.
A little healing is great, but it is not all we need. The experience cultivates the faith that trusts God’s Word. Water does great things, but it is just water, yet with God’s Word it is a baptism that cleanses and restores. Bread and wine are part of daily life and nothing extra-ordinary but the words and promises proclaim it is Christ’s body and blood that in eating and drinking forgives sins and gives life and salvation.
The greatest miracle wasn’t instant perfection but took three days from Good Friday’s cross to Easter’s glorious resurrection. Even from Genesis 3, God was patient with His people in developing relationship and faith in His bringing forth His Son. The perfect restoration of this world and life is still being experienced and not yet realized. But like Naaman, we see the small steps of faith, the receiving of God’s Word in ordinary means, that stands out and brings forth faith. May we simply trust like the centurion of our gospel reading and trust without demand, without expectation of how, but simply trust that we will be healed in the way that Jesus provides.
God grant that we see in quick fixes and in patient enduring that may we may have such faith. That at the end of each day we thank God that He wraps His arm around us and says, “Well, we worked on your patience and trust today, didn’t we?” But it is the “we” that matters, that He works through and provides for us. May we hear God’s Word of forgiveness, may it be done as you have believed, you are forgiven, in Christ you are healed for eternity. Trust that these experiences all are to lead us to our greatest healing and greatest miracle, when we are raised in resurrection glory and perfect restoration is finally realized. Amen.