We arrived in Guatemala yesterday to begin the first phase of building a sanitation system in the community of Chuicutama in the Highlands of Guatemala. If you’d like to support our work, as it’s a multiyear project, you can do so by clicking here:
As part of our week, we’re reflecting on the bible’s commandments about Jubilee. You can think of Jubilee as scripture’s economic policy. Jesus unveiled his own Gospel in terms of Jubilee in Luke 4, his first sermon.
When Jesus preaches his first sermon in Nazareth, the initial reaction isn’t exactly ‘oh, that’s Mary’s boy. We’re so proud of him.’
Jesus unearthing God’s Jubilee command from the pages of the prophet Isaiah leaves the congregation restless and irritated. Jubilee, as far as they were concerned, was a divine commandment (from Leviticus 25) better off forgotten.
But what ignites the congregation in Nazareth, what provokes rage in them and drives them to drive him over the edge of a cliff is Jesus comparing them to the characters in a little known story from 2 Kings 5: the story of Elisha and Namaan.
Namaan is a Syrian general, politically active and socially connected in Damascus. He’s not one to trust much less respect anyone from a lowly nation like Israel.
He is a great warrior, but he has leprosy!
Namaan learns, to his surprise no doubt, that for his condition he must go to the best people in Samaria, people in the hated enemy, Israel. It is a bitter pill to think that his lowly enemy has his remedy. But he goes. He goes, like an important general, with silver and gold and a full entourage.
He goes to Samaria and asks for a royal appointment. After all, why would you not think the ‘powerful’ have the answer?
Eventually, Namaan is led to visit this nobody, this Elisha, an uncredentialed prophet who indifferently says to the great general, “Jump into the Jordan River in the morning.”
By the general’s standards, it’s a humiliation. No fancy medicine. No cutting edge, the-best-that-money-can-buy technology. But Namaan does it because he wants his life back. He jumps, with great disdain and dread, into the Jordan.
And he comes up clean! His leprosy has vanished. We are told, “His flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy and he was clean…” He is so happy and so grateful. He knows that the healing has come in ways he could not control. He gladly asserts, “Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” He offers to pay, generously, and then he is on his way rejoicing.
He learned that his life was a gift that he could not have on his own terms. He learned that his enemy, a stranger with no ‘value,‘ could have wisdom he did not and could be a vessel of God’s blessing.
Standing in the sanctuary of First Church of Nazareth, Jesus tells his listeners about Elisha and Namaan so that they will know that ‘insiders’ or ‘believers’ like themselves aren’t necessarily the keepers of God’s wisdom and blessing.
It can be easy for Christians engaged in mission to see themselves as the ‘keepers’ of a truth only they themselves know. Too often missioners think they are the ones bringing God to those they serve. Like the powerful, well-off Namaan we scoff at the notion that someone like Elisah, someone who is poor, lowly and of no-account by the world’s standards, could be a source of God’s power.
Instead Jesus would have us see that those the world encourages us to see only as lowly strangers are in fact sharers in the blessings of God. That like Elisha, they can share something of God we otherwise would not know had we not made the journey to see them. Rather than bring God to anyone, we venture forth in mission to meet God in new places and among strange faces.
And it really is about seeing when you get down to it. Elisha learns to see his enemy, the Syrian general, in a different light, for Namaan is genuinely changed not just healed. Namaan sees in Elisha and the puny Jordan River a challeng to his definitions of power and value.
The story of Namaan is but an illustration of the Jubilee Gospel made flesh in Jesus.
The Good News brought by Jesus is the news that strangers and enemies are strangers and enemies no more.
The New Age brought by Jesus is for all.