II Kings 5:15c-27
Have you ever been watching a movie when someone enters the room right in the middle of it? They sit down and join you. As the scenes continue to develop, they interrupt and ask: Why is that happening? Who is he or she? What did he or she mean by that? Today with all the streaming videos you can pause to give the explanation. Then you have to explain the context for them.
Our text for today is like that. It picks upright in the middle of a scene. If we don’t know who Naaman is; who Gahezi is – if we don’t know why they are doing what they are doing – we get lost. So we have to “pause” a bit to review what is happening.
Naaman was not an Israelite. He was a devotee to false gods, the commander of a foreign army, the Syrian army – a well to do man. He also had the dreaded flesh-eating disease of leprosy. No amount of money he had was able to buy his cure. But he had an Israelite maid who spoke up for God’s prophet, Elisha. Elisha was God’s agent through whom Naaman could be healed.
So Naaman went to see Elisha. Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan River and he would be cleansed. Naaman went into that water staring at the rotting flesh in his body. It said: You are going to die! He came out of that water seeing his flesh restored like that of a baby. It said: You are going to live! Naaman was given healing for infirmity; life for death; joy for grief.
Healed Naaman cried out: “Now I know that there is no god but the LORD God!” Converted to the true faith, he expressed his new faith. He did in three ways. 1) He wanted to take two loads of dirt from Israel to his home. With the dirt he would make an altar to the true God. It would be his home altar to worship God. 2) He asked forgiveness to accompany his king into a pagan temple. Elisha told him to go in peace. He knew it was a duty of Naaman’s vocation and no longer an act of worship for him. 3) He offered Elisha gifts – a bucket load of silver; a bucket load of gold – and ten outfits.
Elisha declined the gift. No reason is given. It might be that he did not want this new convert to think that God could be bought. Gahezi, though, had a different spirit. Gahezi was Elisha’s servant. He was not satisfied with the earthly goods given to him. So, Gahezi eyed Naaman’s generous offer with greed. He wanted some of it. He went after it. He told Naaman a lie to get it – that two young prophets were in need. He got what he wanted.
Greed got the best of Gahezi. Greed is a universal sin. It is not self-giving, but self-seeking. It does not think of its neighbor but is self-centered. Greed is an unquenchable hunger for what does not belong to me. It is envious of what another has. It desires to selfishly grab what it can. It is never satisfied. No matter how much you might have, greed always wants more.
Always wanting more is something our commercialized and digital world jumps on. It sells “greener grass on the other side of the fence.” Get this or that product and it will give you status – or you will be handsome and beautiful – or it will make you happier.
Tantalized by the world around us, Shakespeare’s “green-eyed monster” gets the best of us. It does and greed acts out. We buy-in. When we think that the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence”, we climb the fence to get it. When we think life is grabbing what we can for self, we don’t think of others. When we see how good others have it, we grumble and complain about how bad we have it.
That’s the thing about greed – it leads to other sins – sins that get acted out by word or deed. Think about how that happened with Gahezi. Greedy for some of Naaman’s wealth, he lied to get it. When Elisha asked Gehezi where he had been, Gahezi added one lie on another. He told Elisha: “I have been nowhere.”
It reminds me of the short novel by John Steinbeck, The Pearl. In it, a man named Kino lives in a small village by the sea. He, like his neighbors, is poor. They earn money by diving for pearls. One day while out diving, Kino finds the mother of pearls. He buries it in the floor of his hut. Word gets out in the village. Kino’s wife says it will destroy them. True to her word, everybody wants it. Pearl buyers lowball Kino to get it. Thieves sneak in his hut to try and steal it. Kino has to defend his family from more thieves. In the brawl, Kino has to kill to defend his family. A stray bullet strikes their son. He dies. Grieved Kino throws the pearl back into the sea.
Greed led lowballing – led to attempted theft – led to killing – lead to grief. That’s how greed works in life. Greed plays out in words and actions – in sins against neighbor. It all goes to say that greed is a serious sin.
Greed, in fact, falls under the 9th and 10th Commandments. They say: “You shall not covet.” In dealing with coveting, our catechism makes the connection between coveting and greed. It then explains: “Greed is a very serious sin because it is the root of so many other sins.”
The apostle put this way: “When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” That is to say: Greed begins in the heart; it acts out in word and deed; and sins of thought, word and deed pay off with death.
When it came to Gahezi’s greed, God was not happy. Because Gahezi was not content with the goods God gave him – because Gahezi acted on his greed – God sent a severe judgment on Gahezi. He left Elisha leprous, as snow.
That was a concrete way that God applied the law to Gahezi. If we compare ourselves to Gahezi or to Kino and his neighbors we might be tempted to pat ourselves on our backs – might be tempted to think that we are better at keeping the law – that we might be a little bit more deserving of eternal life. But that is where our Galatians reading comes in. It concludes that no one gets off the hook of the law: “If a law had been given which could give life, there would be righteousness by the law. But Scripture has concluded all under sin.”
No. You and I may not have done the kinds of outward acts Gahezi had done – we may not have attempted theft like Kino’s neighbors did – yet the law does not let us off the hook. It charges us guilty – guilty of the sin of greed – of not being satisfied with what we have – of wanting to selfishly grab more for self – of grumbling and complaining.
In short, the law cannot help us. To use the picture from today’s gospel, it passes us by. It does just like the priest and the Levite passed by the man beat up and left for dead by thieves.
That’s where the Good Samaritan from today’s gospel comes in. He sees his neighbor in need. He feels empathy. He gets down on his hands and knees. He bandages his wounds. He puts him on his donkey. He takes him to the inn. He cares for him. He does – not asking any questions – not making any judgments – not counting the cost. He helps. Period.
That is to say, the Good Samaritan proved to be a neighbor. He was not self-seeking, but self-giving. He showed mercy to the man left dead. He did an act of charity. He, the Good Samaritan, is a picture of Jesus.
As the Good Samaritan, Jesus felt empathy for you and me left for dead by the law. He got down on his hands and knees at the cross. He did not count the cost. He gave his life willingly. Risen from the dead, he bandages us with his salve of the gospel. He brings us to the inn of the church. Here he continues to care for you and me by word and sacrament. He does until he returns to bring us home.
In short, Jesus did an act of charity. He rescued you from the law’s accusing finger. He kept the law for you: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Because of Jesus’ perfect record, God looks at you through Jesus. He sees you in Jesus as if you kept the law – as if you showed perfect charity to your neighbor. Because of what he did and does for you, you get to go to heaven. That is charity. That is the opposite of greed.
Now God calls you to reflect his charity in your and my lives. To be sure, that call goes against our old self, the old Adam. The old Adam is greedy. Yet, your were baptized into Christ. Baptized into Christ, you no longer identify with your old self. You know greed is sin. You don’t want to do it. You identify with your new self – the person created anew in Christ Jesus. Your new self wants to do good – wants to show charity.
Created anew in Christ Jesus, then, we face this perplexing reality. At times greed does get the best of us. We wrestle with greed. We wonder why it has such a pull on us. After we give in to it and act on it, we feel guilt. We wonder, why did I do that? I know better! What can be done about it?
The thing is we cannot better our greedy old Adam – we cannot improve his self-seeking ways – we cannot reform his never being satisfied. The only thing that can be done about our old Adam, the catechism says, is to return to your and my baptisms.
In your baptism, you were linked to Jesus’ death. In Jesus’ death, then, your old Adam was drowned with all his greedy sins. They are buried – put away from you. In your baptism, you were linked to Jesus’ resurrection. In Jesus’ resurrection, you are raised to new life in Jesus. You were created anew in him. You are washed clean and robed in his perfect life – his righteousness. You are created anew in Christ to show charity to your neighbor – to show your children and grandchildren the Good Samaritan, Jesus – to be content on your side of the fence.
That is the baptized life. It is to return to your baptisms and daily drowning your greedy old Adam in repentance and faith – daily being raised by Jesus – forgiven of your sins and wrapped in his righteous blanket. It is Jesus’ righteous blanket of charity – not your own – but Jesus’ that gives you eternal life. Pull his righteous blanket tightly around you. Amen!