One of the problems with a novel coronavirus (apart from its breath-stealing, death-dealing, energy-depleting, joy-defeating tendencies) is that it is so novel.

As people, as pastors, we are learning as we go, mapping unchartered territory through careful and tentative exploration. Sometimes we may have to backtrack, based on new evidence, like a wayfinder who discovers the brink of a cliff before her. It would, after all, be foolish to plunge onward merely for the sake of consistency of direction and pace. Other times, we might find a clearing, a place to pause for a moment and catch our breath.

In the days of Elisha the prophet (specifically, the days of 2 Kings 5), an army commander named Naaman came from Aram to consult for a cure for his leprosy. He went first to the king of Israel, but the king was no physician, nor a scientist, nor yet a magician. He had even forgotten how to prophesy, and he was afraid. Elisha sent him a quick reminder: There is help at hand. Send Naaman to me.

Naaman accepted the diversion, but he arrived as though still on a state visit, with horses, chariots, and an attitude, outside Elisha’s house. Elisha sent out a message for Naaman to go and wash himself in the Jordan. Naaman was offended both by the message and its means: he was sure that Elisha should come and personally lay hands upon him. But Elisha kept his social distance, and stuck to his advice: Wash [your hands frequently] seven times, and see what good it does you.

There are so many lessons that we could tease out of this little story of disease, helplessness, helpfulness, haughtiness, humility, and healing:

The political leader could not heal Naaman without the help of the expert, Elisha;

Naaman’s status as a rich man and a fighter was no match for the disease that gripped him, although it did give him unequalled access to all sorts of amenities and avenues to explore;

Elisha would not be bullied nor awed into breaking his own rules of self-distancing, nor alter his advice in the face of Naaman’s indignant anger;

Naaman’s submission to the good advice of his servants, who urged him to turn aside to the Jordan, to follow the expert advice of Elisha, because really, what could it hurt? was what saved him in the end.

In the course of it all, Naaman found God.

As people and as pastors, we may find ourselves exploring novel circumstances, relying on epidemiologists and other prophets to help guide us, quietly sympathizing with some political leaders who are rending their clothes, saying, “Am I God, to give death or life?”, trying to avoid the brash and bullying rashness of leaders like Naaman, and hoping for their humble conversion, trying not to fall off cliffs.

While the intervention of kings made a political football out of the army commander’s illness, the faithful Elisha kept his mind on his ministry, which was to demonstrate to the world that God’s power is present, God’s mercy is manifest, and that keeping to one’s house, advocating for frequent (hand) washing, donning the mask of humility, and protecting the integrity of one’s position as a prophet and a pastor are potent means to unleashing the change of circumstances for which we all thirst, and hunger, and pray.

The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing, published by Upper Room Books, and contributor to the RevGalBlogPals book. She blogs at over the water and is a contributing editor at the Episcopal Cafe. In amongst it all, she serves as Rector of the patient and supportive Church of the Epiphany (Episcopal) in Euclid, Ohio.

Featured image: Naaman washes in the Jordan. Author unknown. Public domain. Via wikimedia commons

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