instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, March 08, 2010

Hint: Probably not Elisha

Naaman the Aramean comes across as a believable human being in 2 Kings 5. This should not reassure the rest of us human beings, since his instinct is to prefer a lifetime of leprosy to an hour of humility.

At the climax of the story, Naaman's servants ask him, "If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?" He sees the reason in their argument, and washes himself clean in the Jordan.

From the very beginning, though, this is a story of great men who should but don't always listen to slaves and servants. The young Irsaelite slave girl gets things started, but she was evidently not invited to discuss matters -- minor things, like the name of the prophet -- with the King of Aram and the commander of his army.

This leads in due course to some unlamented anguish for the king of Israel, who apparently never considers the possibility that the rumor of a prophet might be true -- until a servant arrives with the message that Elisha's on the case.

It may have been the same servant who delivered the message that so angered Naaman. For that matter, the messenger himself angered Naaman, who wanted the prophet to appear in person to do something, I don't know, prophety.

In the end, Naaman is cured because his wife listened to her servant, the king of Israel listened to Elisha's servant, and Naaman himself listened to his own servants (is it beating this drum too hard to point out that he listened to them when they addressed him as "father"?). The great men he preferred to deal with were mere conduits to... a bath in a river. It took ordinary men to know better than to look down on ordinary means.

So here comes the usual question: Who am I in this story? Or, better: When am I which person in this story?