In 8th century B.C., an Aramean named Naaman was a general in the Syrian army and well-respected by his leader, King Ben-Hadad II. In spite of all of his respectable and significant accomplishments, this mighty man of valor was afflicted with the dreaded illness of leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14). This horrible malady was incurable and was a walking death sentence to those unfortunate enough to contract it. It is amazing how one thing can override all of our certificates of respectability and status quo. Our greatness and honor cannot place us beyond the reach of the sorest calamities of human life. Everyone has some “but or other” – something that blemishes and diminishes us, mars the glitter of our grandeur, and dampens our joy. Everyone.
One of Naaman’s Jewish servants told him that he could be healed of this debilitating disease by the prophet Elisha. Upon hearing this good news, Naaman went to Elisha’s house with an expectation that this powerful prophet had a remedy for his death-dealing condition. He arrived at the house with a large army and impressive entourage, bearing many lavish gifts to exchange for his miraculous healing.
When the Syrian knocked on Elisha’s door, the prophet does not go to meet him. Instead, he sends his servant, Gehazi, who instructs Naaman to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River if he wishes to be healed.
This was a great test of humility and faith and one that Naaman understandably misinterprets as an insult. National pride and personal expectations of a spectacular, magical display of healing lead the commander to stomp away in rage. His retort: “Surely this prophet could have at least come out of his house, laid his hand on me, and called on his God for my cure. Even if I was to bath in a river, it certainly would not be this muddy Jordan. Are there not several other, much cleaner rivers in my country?” You can hear the arrogance in his response. He chose to go home unhealed rather than humble himself and receive his deliverance.
Naaman’s servants attack his arrogance with common sense: He would do something difficult, they reasoned, so why not at least obey the prophet’s command for a possible cure? What could it hurt? Naaman follows their advice and is instantaneously healed. Had his servants not challenged him to humble himself and follow the prophet’s instructions, he would have gone home as leprous as he came, wearing his cloak of arrogance to cover his shame.
Pride is a Band-Aid that covers our weaknesses. Naaman was dying of leprosy and his arrogance deflected attention from his horrifying sickness. People with this illness were instructed to stay several feet from others. Because of his status as a wealthy and great commander, Naaman was able to prevent being ostracized. I am sure that without his celebrity he would have been just another “working stiff”.
Like the peacock, we strut our brightest colors to draw attention away from our weakest areas. Successful careers, expensive clothing, reputation, acumen, etc. can become outward shields that mask our inner weaknesses. A person can highlight physical beauty to mask low self-esteem. Intellectualism can be a covering for our inability to sustain healthy relationships. Talent can deflect attention away from our emotional handicaps. Our gifts and resources all come from God. Like Satan, pride will cause us to unduly focus on what God has gifted us with and cause us to forget that we are stewards. We can never impress God with what He owns.
Pride is like a lid on a jar that is 1 percent full. The contents of the jar will never increase because the lid prevents that. Our arrogance seals the lid on our existing accomplishments and grandeur, locking out future possibility. There is no need for additional education because we think we already know enough. We have little desire to seek the face of God because we are already good enough. We do not ask for help because we place too much value on our self-sufficiency. My percent is better than all of the possibilities that are outside of my closed container. In this state, we are bound to fail. Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Our 1 percent is enough to seal our fate. We have no need of washing in muddy ponds because we already have rivers that are better.
Jesus said blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Humility removes our lid of pride so that we may receive all the things that God has in store for us now and eternally. Humility is never satisfied with 1 percent and is willing to reposition itself to receive the other 99 percent. Those that humble themselves are exalted and those that exalt themselves are abased. Pride is a weight to our human spirit that prevents our “liftoff”.
Naaman’s pride almost cost him his second chance at life. However, his leprosy was cleansed by bathing in a muddy river. Maybe he was not just washing his body of a debilitating and humiliating illness, but he was washing his soul of a terminal sickness called pride. The muddy river cleansed his muddy soul. God has to reveal to us the depth of our pride or we will miss it. He does this by putting us in muddy, embarrassing situations. Many times, our greatest cure to what ails us can only be discovered by changing our attitude and humbling ourselves. Sometimes when we find ourselves eating “humble pie” it might be time to go take a bath.