A Leper’s Pride

Jesus Healing the Leper (1864) by Jean-Marie Melchior Doze

There was no hiding the man’s condition. One look and you knew he was striken with the dreaded disease. Naaman had leprosy—the AIDS of his day. Leprosy was (and is) a chronic infectious disease that caused unsightly formations on the skin, terrible deformities, and ultimately death. Social stigma compouded the horrible effects of the condition. In ancient Israel,

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Lev. 13:45-46)

Naaman was not in Israel but Damascus, Syria. In 2 Kings 5:1-14 we read about this victorious general who had almost everything the world values most: power, fame, and fortune. But the one thing he didn’t have was his health. An unnamed Hebrew servant girl informed Naaman’s wife that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure him. Naaman did what most rich people do: he tried to buy a solution to his problem. Only God didn’t want his money; he wanted his obedience. When the Prophet Elisha didn’t do what Naaman expected but told him to bathe in the muddy waters of the Jordan,

Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. (2 Kings 5:11-12)

Naaman’s problem wasn’t skin deep. His heart was infected with something more deadly than leprosy: pride. When Naaman humbled himself and did what the prophet said, he was finally clean. His physical healing came as the result of his humility.

Jesus also healed lepers. On one occassion he said something odd to the man he had just cleansed: “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them” (Mark 1:44). On several other ocassions, Jesus issued such commands of silence. Why?

Perhaps Jesus was trying to avoid being associated with the popular but false notion that the Messiah would be a political deliverer. Or maybe he didn’t want to be treated like rock star, which would hinder his ability to minister effectively. There’s also the possibility that he wanted people to come to faith because of their own experience with God, not relying on the experiences of others. Of course,  Jesus may simply have been modeling the virtue of humility. In that case the lesson is the same as the one Naaman learned: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

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