“Pride and Prejudice”
July 03, 2016
By John Partridge*
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 Galatians 6:1-16 2 Kings 5:1-14
Having served for ten years in the United States Army Reserve, I am a veteran. Perhaps that makes me more conscious of public military references or more aware of how the military is being portrayed in the media, but to me it seems as if the last few years have seen a significant increase in the drumbeat of patriotism. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it depends on how it is expressed and who it is that is beating the drum. What I have seen and heard, is a huge increase in the way that we honor veterans, the way that we praise those serving in active duty, and the way that we glorify the military in general. Again, these things aren’t necessarily bad, but we must be careful that we aren’t being manipulated by people, businesses, and politicians who have something to gain.
I am proud to be a veteran. I’m glad that I served and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I am proud of our military, what it can do, the skills, abilities and intellect of the men and women in uniform, and I am proud of my nation. But in all these things, I must be careful because that pride can be manipulated by marketing companies, special interest groups, charitable organizations, and shady politicians to advance their cause even when that cause may not represent my interests and, in fact, may not be good for anyone except the shady people who profit from it.
But there is yet another reason to be cautious. We must be cautious of pride itself because if pride is allowed to grow without boundaries, controls, or accountability, it can grow into something ugly.
We begin this morning in 2 Kings 5:1-14, where we meet Naaman, one of the most powerful military leaders of his day. But despite all of his power, Naaman had a big problem.
Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.”9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
Naaman was the commanding general of the most powerful army in the known world. Among his friends were warriors, kings, and ruling elites. But he had an incurable disease that didn’t care about his wealth, power, or influential friends. The good news was that one his slaves knew that Elisha, the prophet of the God of Israel, had real power that came from God himself. And so, Naaman goes to Israel carrying great wealth and a letter of introduction from the King of Aram. The king of Israel worries that this is a trick because he knows that leprosy is incurable, but Elisha tells the king that he should send Naaman to him.
And here is where Naaman’s patriotism derails everything and very nearly kills him.
Even though Elisha tells Naaman what he must do to be cured, he storms off because the cure required that he bathe in a river in Israel instead of a river in his home country. Naaman was so proud of his home country that he was insulted that he couldn’t be cured in waters that he believed to be superior simply because they were the rivers of his home. For Naaman, his home, his nation, was better than every other. For him, there was no better place in the entire world. For him, it was necessary to believe that home was worth fighting for because it was the best. But that nationalistic streak, that pride, became a prejudice against everyone else, and a prejudice against any place else.
And that pride almost killed him,
The irony is that the warrior who would die because of his pride and arrogance was rescued by his servants. They gently remind the Naaman that if Elisha had demanded some great act of service, or participation in some heroic battle, Naaman would have jumped at the chance. And so, in humility, they suggest that perhaps something simple could be done just as easily. And as soon as Naaman recovers enough of his humility to do as Elisha asked, he is healed, the incurable is cured, and the damage that has been done to his flesh, is restored.
Similarly, in his letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 6:1-16), Paul warns that the leaders of the church, and indeed any of the followers of Jesus Christ, and not immune from falling victim to our own arrogance and pride.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.
We all experience failure. None of us are perfect. And so, when someone sins, our response should not be to humiliate them further, turn our backs on them, throw them out, excommunicate them, or otherwise abandon them, but to restore them… gently. Paul says that it’s okay to be proud of your own accomplishments, but that you’ve crossed a line when you compare yourself to someone else. Your path and your burdens are yours and not someone else’s. We can help others to carry their burdens, and they can help to carry ours, but we cannot be proud that we are doing “better” than they are without our pride crossing the line into arrogance and sin. Our motivation in doing good must be to please God and not to please ourselves or to make ourselves more comfortable.
Paul goes on to remind his readers that there are those within the community of believers, likely including some well known people or church leaders, who do things simply to impress people. These people tried to get believers to do things that weren’t required. They wanted people to follow rules rather than follow Jesus because following rules looked good and impressed people. They wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised so that they would “fit in” and not because it was required to follow Jesus. Their ultimate motivation was to be popular and comfortable rather than obedient to God and to the mission of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus sent seventy-two missionaries out into the towns and villages ahead of him he built in a lesson on humility even before they took the first step of their journey. (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Jesus sends his followers out with nothing that they can call their own and nothing that they can credit for their success or failure. They go out with almost no possessions of any kind, no money, no luggage, and not even shoes on their feet. All that they have are their gifts, talents, abilities, and the Spirit of God that goes with them. And when they return, they sing God’s praises telling everyone what God had done and not what they had done. Afterward, Jesus instructs them not even to rejoice over God’s power, but simply to praise God for their salvation.
Pride is a tricky thing. It’s okay to be proud. It’s okay to be proud of ourselves. It’s okay to be proud of God and the things that God does. It’s okay to be proud of our nation and proud of our military. But we can cross a line and become too proud. We must be careful not to allow our pride to drift into arrogance. Patriotism is normal and even expected, but sometimes patriotism can be an excuse for our failure to be humble before God.
And so, as we leave this place to go out and celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, feel free to be happy for our country. Feel free to be proud of how far we have come and what we have accomplished. But let us also try to keep our priorities in order and remember that everything that we have been given, as individuals, as a church, and as a nation, has been given to us as a gift from God and, just as surely, can be taken away by God.
Let us remember that our obedience must be to God first, and to our nation second.
The most important thing, however, is to rejoice that God has chosen to rescue us.
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