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2 Kings 5:1-14
If you knew your words had the power to heal, to whom would you speak?
What would you say?
Think about it for a moment. I’m not talking of physical healing so much as spiritual, emotional and psychological healing, reconciliation, peace- and justice-making—but I don’t want rule anything out or box anyone in.
Think about it.
What would you say, what do you need to say to heal a wound you may have caused, to bridge a gap created by race or religion, social standing or culture, to strengthen the bonds between different classes, races, religions, nationalities or—imagine this—political groups?
“How can I help”?
“I love you”?
“I forgive you”?
Maybe “let’s try again” or “I need to tell you something.” Maybe “this is how that makes me feel,” “how can I set things right?”, “what do you need?” or “how can I pray for you?”
Maybe even “Lord, hear my prayer.”
What is the word you need to speak? What is the word you need to hear? Might they be one and the same?
If words have the power to hurt and wound—and, despite the old children’s rhyme about sticks and stones, we know that they do—surely they also have the power to heal and repair.
Sometimes the words themselves are key. Other times what we say is less important than the act of recognizing and honoring another by speaking to them in vulnerability and truth.
Today’s readings are about many things: trust, faith, authority, the importance of relationship, the willingness of the marginalized and oppressed to see the goodness or need of their oppressors, the commitment of some powerful people to the well-being of the powerless. We see that prophets are healers at heart; we see that Jesus is predisposed to heal—anyone, anytime, anywhere. And we see that the healing of just one person sometimes takes a whole village.
These stories also remind us that when we are able to see the image of God in the other, when we are willing to cross barriers to listen and learn and build webs of commonality and connection, healing can happen. The foundations of transformation and justice can be laid by the capacity to see ourselves in another.
But underneath all deep healing, these stories suggest, is the willingness to speak—to speak up, to speak for, to speak to, to become a go-between for God and for good.
We see it first in the unnamed slave girl. In a particularly perverse twist of fate, she is now slave to the wife of the very general whose army overran her country and may have killed her family. The same army that took her hostage and carried her away from everything she had ever known. It’s too bad that the general has a troubling skin condition, she may think, but it serves him right.
It occurs to her that she knows of a prophet who could heal Naaman, but why should she get involved? She doesn’t owe the general or his wife a thing. Besides, they might not listen to her. She might even get in trouble for speaking to her mistress without being asked. No doubt, speaking up would be risky.
But the longer she keeps silent, the guiltier she feels. Finally, she considers what she would want someone else to do if she were in Naaman’s situation.
And so she, a slave, speaks the word to her oppressors—a word of information, a word of hope, a word of possibility, a word of shared humanity and potential healing.
Her words have the potential to change everything for Naaman and his wife—but they are not enough. The word of the king of Aram is not enough. Silver, gold and ten sets of fancy clothes are not enough. The word of the king of Israel is not enough. Finally, not even the word of Elisha the prophet, delivered not in person but through a messenger, is enough to heal Naaman.
The general had traveled some distance and was prepared to buy his healing; for him it was a straightforward political transaction. But true healing is never a transaction. Real healing always requires an open, listening heart, a heart that can hear, recognize and trust a healing word.
The final healing word for Naaman comes again from the other, from his servants. Like the slave girl, they speak a risky word—a word of challenge and criticism. “Um, sir,” they say. “Hello? If the prophet had asked you to do something hard, wouldn’t you have done that?” Implying, of course, that he needs to get over himself and just dip in the Jordan seven times.
And because his servants are brave, because his servants care enough to speak the word, Naaman is healed.
What is the word you need to speak? To whom? What is the word you need to hear? To whom do you need to listen? Based on the relationships of trust, generosity, and respect you have built, whom can you ask to speak on your behalf?
In Luke’s gospel we find yet another military commander, another Gentile who has power over the Jews. But the unnamed centurion, a tool of the oppressive Roman empire, has worked to create a community of goodwill and mutual respect. His relationships are not purely transactional; he seems to understand that keeping the peace is easier when the occupying army provides services as well as threats. He has built a synagogue for the local Jews. He has earned their trust.
So when he hears of Jesus and his authoritative teaching and healing, the centurion is impressed. And when his treasured slave becomes sick unto death, he knows where to turn. He sends the local Jewish leaders, men who know and respect him, to plead his case with Jesus. Then, while Jesus is on the way, someone apparently reminds the centurion that Jesus would defile himself by entering a Gentile’s home. So he sends another delegation, friends this time, to tell Jesus he needn’t bother coming to the house.
“Just speak the word,” he tells Jesus through his friends, “and let my servant be healed.”
Just speak the word.
Speaking the word is not magic. There is no word that automatically makes everything all better. But speaking a healing, courageous, compassionate, boundary-crossing, life-giving, community-building word can open doors and soften hearts; it can provoke encounter with the other; it can create pathways to relationship; it can build trust. And open, honest, trusting relationships are the foundation for healing.
What are the situations in our world, in our country, in our community and our church that need healing? Which of our relationships needs healing? What are the broken places and hidden secrets in our hearts that need healing?
How can we build relationships across lines of difference?
What is the word that might acknowledge our connections to one another? What is the word that would open hearts? What is the word that would heal? Who needs to hear that word? Who needs us to speak it on their behalf? Is there something that needs to be healed in us before we can speak a healing word?
These are big questions—but the answer may be nothing more complicated than a simple word. These are important questions; maybe we would do well to address them together?
But this is also the real stuff of day-to-day life—our personal journeys and our intimate relationships—where we are forever sustaining, and sometimes inflicting, small nicks and bruises, and where we sometimes live out of our deep wounds. Will we settle for broken relationships, or will we risk speaking a healing word? Will we settle for damaged hearts, or will we let ourselves be healed?
Only say the word, Lord, and we shall we healed.
Let us only speak the word, beloveds—the word of welcome, the word of affirmation, the word of encouragement, the word of hope, the word of love, the word of confession, the word of forgiveness, the word of peace, the word of rest, the word of blessing—and let ourselves be amazed by the healing that happens.