Saturday, August 20, 2011

Going Down

I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t he know who I was? Apparently he didn’t even consider it important enough to come out and speak to me in person, just send a message via his servant. If he didn’t appreciate my high rank, and the might and majesty of Aram, surely it mattered that his own king had sent me to him? But Israel is a strange place, where it seems that prophets rank higher than kings, and have no qualms giving orders to them. The least he could have done was come out and speak to me in person; perhaps pray over me or whatever it is these outlandish prophets do to minister healing! Apparently I wasn’t important enough to be worthy of his time and attention – even though his own king had taken my request very seriously indeed (and quite mistaken my objective)

But it wasn’t just the mode of the message that rankled, it was the message itself. “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan’” I was told, as if that most ordinary of rivers, where the common people did their washing and fetched their drinking water, was somehow more magical, more powerful that the great rivers of Damascus.

I was furious. This whole journey had been a complete waste. And I was the more angry because it meant so very much to me to be healed. Honour and glory and the favour of the King I had amassed in plenty, but it was all useless to a leper. Soon those little patches would spread, soon they could no longer be concealed beneath my clothing, the disfigurements would appear, and, instead of being one who rode forth resplendently to the cheering of the crowd, I would be an object of scorn and loathing. All men must die, and who knows that better than a soldier, but leprosy is the sentence of a living death, and, under my bravado, I was terribly afraid. This is a fate that would unman the bravest.

It was my servants who talked sense back into me, and surely there is a deep moral there, for my whole path to healing has been dependent on humbling myself. It was the little Israelite slave girl who made the first suggestion; now it was my own faithful servants who tactfully pointed out that I had nothing to lose. If he had demanded from me some daring or difficult deed as the means to my healing, of course I would have consented (and claimed the credit for the healing to my own courage). Therefore (they suggested very carefully) why should I refuse to do something so easy as wash in the nearest river? There was no possible answer to that which didn’t sound ridiculous when put into words, so, with an ill grace to preserve the remnants of my pride, I went down to the Jordan.

And there, in the river whose very name means “going down”, I washed myself seven times, as the prophet had instructed, and was cleansed of my leprosy and washed away my foolish pride. Well might I be a high ranking commander in the King of Aram’s army, but before the God of Israel, the God of Elisha, I was nothing but a broken leper, desperately needing to be cleansed and healed. And how could I receive His healing until I had let go of myself and gone down to acknowledge my true emptiness and need?

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