Naaman, the Syrian Leper

Naaman, the Syrian Leper

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 13, 2008

So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (2 Ki 5:14)

The story of Naaman the leper is set in the period of the kings of Israel and Judah, the time in the history of the Jewish nation that followed the glorious days of David and Solomon. Unlike the glory of the past, these were days of civil war, idolatry, and famine. In these sad times, the Lord provided first the prophet Elijah to travel throughout the land reminding the people of their need to follow God’s commandments and performing miracles.. When Elijah’s work was done he has passed his mantle to Elisha (literally – the phrase we use today to indicate the passing of authority comes from this) and gone to heaven in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha to carry on his work. Elisha was also given the power to perform miracles and he multiplied the widow’s oil, raised a boy from the dead, healed a deadly stew, and fed a multitude with only a few loaves of bread.

This was also a time when Syria, the nation to the north of Israel, was beginning to expand, striking out on all sides to increase its empire, often looking down on Israel as a suitable victim. For it’s part, Israel was a very weak country, tearing itself apart from within through civil war and rebellion. It was rapidly losing its power to resist any external enemy. There was good reason for the kings of Israel to suspect treachery in any dealings with Syria.

It is against this backdrop of evil and disorder that we view the story of Naaman. The Word tells us Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. (2KI 5:1)

Naaman was a brave and honoured man, whose many blessings and uses were being destroyed by his disease. Leprosy, known today as Hansen’s syndrome, is a disease with many symptoms, such as skin ulcerations. In ancient times, when there was no known treatment, the end result of the disease was usually horrible disfigurement leading to a slow and painful death. Although the variety of the disease that exists today is only mildly infectious, in ancient times it was believed to be highly infectious, so lepers were shunned and feared. Obviously a man disfigured by leprosy could not be a military leader or royal adviser as he would be sent away to live out his remaining time with other lepers far from his family and the court.

Naaman’s whole life was being destroyed by his disease. The letter of the Word tells us that he was willing to pay a great fortune to be rid of it, if only that were possible. No doubt he sought the help of the best physicians and wise men that could be found in Syria, but they had been unable to help him, leaving him in despair.

But the Lord finds us in our despair, sometimes in surprising ways. Naaman had a Hebrew servant who said to Naaman’s wife, If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy (2KI 5:3). Another servant overheard this, and carried the message to Naaman, who then requested permission of his king to travel to Samaria. The king gave Naaman permission, and a letter to carry to the king of Israel, making the visit official and thus protecting Naaman in an enemy country. One assumes, from the story in the letter that this was a well-intentioned act, intended to help Naaman in his search for a cure. As we shall see, it was not received in that spirit.

Naaman took a great fortune with him: ten talents of silver, and six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. (2KI 5:5), as a gift for Elisha if he was cured. He arrived at the house of Elisha with his retinue, fully expecting a welcome befitting his exalted position. But, Elisha did not come to the door to greet him, but merely sent a messenger to tell Naaman that he should go wash seven times in the Jordan.

This made Naaman furious! He expected the prophet to at least come out personally, call upon the name of the Lord, perhaps dramatically sacrifice a few animals, and then declare him cured! He was, after all, an important man with an important problem, and he wanted something to cure him that would be suited to his elevated rank. So, he replied, Are not the Abana and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage (2KI 5:12).

Although Naaman was angry and insulted, there was still a basic sense of affirmation with him, for he listened when his servant reminded him that, If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, Wash, and be clean? (2KI 5:13). This touched the hope of eventual healing that lived within him. He did not really understand what the prophet wanted him to do, since he felt that since the rivers of Damascus were not as small and muddy as the Jordan, they would be much better than the river of Israel for any kind of washing. But at the prompting of a trusted advisor, he was willing to submit, willing to bring himself into the Lord’s order, no matter what he personally thought of the request. Naaman made his decision to follow Jehovah through the word of the prophet Elisha. He washed himself seven times in the Jordan, and his rotted flesh was restored so that it was like that of a little child.

What was it that really cleansed Naaman? The waters of the Jordan are not in themselves miraculous. They do not contain any magic potion. If a leper were to wash seven times in that river now, or at any time, he would not be healed by the waters. What really healed Naaman was his own obedience to the word of the Lord through Elisha. He listened to him, put his own feelings, beliefs and prejudices aside, and submitted himself to the truth of the Word, without excuse or qualification. Thus, his body was restored to its former health.

Naaman’s delight was boundless, as we might expect. He said, Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant. (2KI 5:15). In saying this, Naaman meant to give Elisha his fortune, but Elisha would not accept. Then Naaman made an unusual request and declared his faith in Jehovah: Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. (2KI 5:17).

Whether we speak of Naaman, the Syrian leper, or a person who discovers that they are in a state of profanation, it is the same. To understand the internal sense of this story, it is important to note that Naaman was a Syrian. Syria, although the prime enemy of Israel at this time, has a good representation. The Syrian nation was a remnant of the Ancient Church, and they were in the knowledges of good (AC 3762), which they had from the Ancient Word (SS 102).

Leprosy represents the profanation of truth (AC 6963, 9468:9). This is the key to Naaman’s representation. He represents a person who has had the Word, has learned truths from it, and even lived according to them. There was something of the marriage of good and truth within him, but it has become adulterated. This happened because, for some reason, he began to turn away from the truth, deliberately bending it, adding qualifications and conditions to the truth, conditions that would allow him to justify the breaking of them in his own mind. He began to look to himself instead of the Lord for the truth.

Many people look to themselves for their truth, in ignorance. They do not really know that there is any other source of truth. The important thing about the person represented by Naaman is that while he does have the Word, and he has lived according to it, he has deliberately chosen to twist the truth for the sake of his own gain, making it false.

When anyone qualifies the commandments of the Lord in the Word, and begins to believe the Lord’s commandments apply to him only under certain circumstances, he has then become a spiritual leper, for he has profaned the truth. He has put himself in the place of the Lord, choosing what he will do from his own perverted truths. His spiritual body, reflecting the state of his mind and will, begins to be more and more disfigured as the twisted falsities that he has instead of truth begin to show in his spiritual face and body.

When a person examines himself and finds that he is a spiritual leper, there remains a means for him to be cured, to return to a life of order, if he still has an affirmative attitude about the Lord and the Word. He must first see that he is spiritually sick through self-examination. The only cure is to return to the Word, the truth that cleanses the spirit of man, that is, he must repent.

When Naaman travelled to Israel to see Elisha, it represented the spiritual leper’s turning back to the Word when he finally realizes how bad his spiritual state is, turning away from his profanation, back to the one source of genuine truth. At such a time, he believes that if only this punishment could be removed, he’d do anything. He wants to return to a state prior to his disorder. In the turmoil of his own mind, he promises the Lord that he will never do it again, if only the Lord will save him now. He desperately wants to strike a bargain with the Lord, giving up all the things that he loves so that the Lord will take away the sins that are bringing misery to his life – the misery that has come from his own free choices and their results. In this state, the man offers his whole fortune to the Lord, if only the disease, the trouble, can be taken away.

States of Grieving?

When we turn to the Word for the answer to a specific problem, for the cure for some evil or falsity that we have found within ourselves, like Naaman, we are impatient with the Lord. We think our problems are the most important problems in the world. Like Naaman, we want some very impressive, important sounding, complex instructions that we can feel is designed especially for us. It is like when we go to the doctor with some complaint – unless the doctor gives us a prescription of some sort (whether we really need the medicine or not), we feel he doesn’t believe we are really sick.

It is very important to us that our spiritual medicine should require some public sacrifice or penance so that others will know how hard we are working on our spiritual state. However, when we turn to the Word we find no such instruction, no complex repentance, nothing very showy at all. We are simply reminded of the very simple basic truths of the Word, and reminded further that all that is necessary for us to be cleansed is that we put ourselves in obedience to the truth, to wash in the spiritual water because we believe it is from the Lord. All we really need do to be cleansed of our spiritual leprosy is to put ourselves back within the confines of spiritual law, undefiled by our own interpretations. And, as with Naaman, the effect is that the truth, like the Jordan washing away leprosy, washes away our sins, but the cause is the fact that we have from our own desire put ourselves in obedience to the Lord’s will.

With us, it is the excuses and qualification of the truth that cause the spiritual leprosy in the first place, and when this is seen and repudiated, the leprosy is cured, and our spiritual state is advanced. This comes only when self is put away, and the Word is seen as the only source of truth.

We are all spiritual lepers whenever we think to ourselves that, for whatever the reason, the commandments of the Lord in the Word do not apply to us. We are spiritual lepers when we decide that the commandments of the Lord apply to others, but not to ourselves. We are spiritual lepers when we say that the commandments of the Word apply to us sometimes – but not under certain convenient circumstances. Thus, every one of us is to some degree a spiritual leper. If we do not recognize that fact, or refuse to seek help for our disease, we are destined to eventually find our way to the filthy caves of hell – the eternal leper colony – to spend our days in horrible disfigurement.

There is help available to us, though not from the works of man. Just as no physician in Syria could help Naaman, no earthly philosophy can cure the diseases of our spirit. There is but one hope – to go and see Elisha, to turn to the truth of the Word, and from self-compulsion come into obedience to it. We do this not once, not twice, but seven times, that is, completely. Then, and only then, we will be cured of spiritual diseases, and will be free to return to our uses and serve the Lord with a full heart, our spiritual flesh like that of a little child, clean, pure and innocent, following the Lord. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:16-18). AMEN.

First Lesson: 2KI 5:1-14

Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. {2} And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. {3} Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” {4} And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.” {5} Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. {6} Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said, Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy. {7} And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.” {8} So it was, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” {9} Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. {10} And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” {11} But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ {12} “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. {13} And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” {14} So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Second Lesson: Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) 6959. [2]

In their childhood, and afterward in their youth, they of the spiritual church have faith in the doctrinal things of their church, but at that time they have faith from parents and masters, and not from themselves, and therefore if they afterward recede from faith, they profane the truth only slightly, which profanation can be removed by Divine means, and thus the man be freed from the guilt of it. But if a man has faith in the doctrine of the church, and in the Word, from himself, that is, by confirmations in himself, and if be then afterward recedes, and denies in himself what he had before believed, especially if he lives contrary to the truth which he had confirmed in himself, and either explains it in his own favor, or altogether rejects it, he profanes the truth; and this because he commingles and conjoins together within himself truth and falsity. As such persons have scarcely any remains of truth and good, in the other life they finally become like skeletons; and have as little life remaining as have the bones relatively to the organic life of the flesh.

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Naaman’s Leprosy

Sermon: Naaman’s Leprosy

I preached this sermon on August 14, 2011, at the Dawson Creek Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.


“My father, if the prophet had spoken unto you of a great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Bathe and be​ ​clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13)

What should we do to be cleaned?  How can we be cured of our spiritual diseases?  The answer is simple: wash, and be cleaned.  Cease to do evil, learn to do good.  But that simple answer is often unsatisfying.  Sometimes we want something much bigger, something immediate and powerful that heals us in an instant.  In those times, we are like Naaman, who we read about this morning.

Naaman was the commander of the army of the king of Syria – “a great man.”  He was a hero of his people – but he suffered from leprosy.  In those times, there was no known cure for leprosy.  It would have disfigured Naaman, and made his skin hard and white.  Besides this, when a person has leprosy they lose sensitivity, and they can easily hurt their bodies because they don’t feel pain.

We don’t know how long Naaman had been a leper, or whether he had tried anything to find a cure, but the story reveals that he was desperate– since he brought with him an incredible sum of money that he was willing to give to Elisha if the prophet was able to cure him.  In fact, the disease may have been life-threatening, since when the king of Israel was asked to find a cure, he cried out, “Am I God, to put to death and make to live?” – implying that Naaman was asking for his very life.

Elisha might have been Naaman’s last hope.  But Naaman would not have even known of Elisha if it were not for a young Israelite girl who had heard of his plight.  She had been captured by the Syrians in one of their frequent raids against Israel, and brought to the house of Naaman – but she did not seem to have borne any ill will against her captors.  On the contrary, she expressed a sincere desire for Naaman to be healed – she said to her mistress, Naaman’s wife, “Oh that my lord were before the prophet that is in Samaria – then would he recover him of his leprosy!”

And so, after the king of Syria had sent a letter to the king of Israel, and Elisha had promised that Naaman could be healed, Naaman came to Israel.  He came with his horse and chariot, and he went to the entrance of the house of Elisha the prophet.  No doubt he expected a great welcome fitting for a man of his greatness.  Imagine his surprise when instead a servant came out with a message: Elisha said to bathe seven times in the Jordan, and his flesh would be returned to him, and he would be clean.  That was it – Elisha did not even come out to see him.

Naaman was furious.  He had travelled over a hundred miles, he had crossed several rivers – including the Jordan, miles before – and the great prophet would not even speak to him in person.  He had expected a great ceremony; he had thought, “He will come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of Jehovah his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper!”  But this – a message, to simply bathe in the Jordan – was insulting!  The Jordan was not even a very great river – the rivers of Damascus, Naaman’s home city, were much more renowned.  If he had to bathe in a river to be cleaned, couldn’t he as well or better bathe in the great rivers of his home?  So he turned away in a rage to begin the journey back to Syria.

But his servants stopped him.  They said, “If the prophet had spoken unto you of a great thing, would you not have done it?   How much more when he says to you, bathe and be clean?”  That gave Naaman pause.  Imagine the struggle that this might have started in him.  On the one hand, he had been told to do something so simple and childish that it was almost insulting.  On the other hand, though, he still had his leprosy, and he had no one to turn to but Elisha.  And so, he swallowed his pride.  He went to the Jordan river; he dipped in it seven times – and his flesh was healed, and became soft like the skin of a young boy – and he was clean.

Naaman’s attitude in the story is one we may recognize in ourselves.  It is easy to fantasize about doing something great and wonderful in the service of mankind.  It’s more difficult to do the everyday things – to work thanklessly to clean the house, to put food on the table, to be nice to the cashier who messed up our order, to forgive the driver who cut us off.  We would rather do something grand than mundane.

That’s the overall sense of this story – it’s about the importance of having enough humility to do something simple and straightforward rather than large and noticeable.  With that general overview in mind, we can look deeper into the story, and see its particular application in terms of our regeneration, since everything in the Word has to do in the internal sense with the way we are reformed and made ready for heaven.

We begin the story with Naaman, the commander of the army of Syria.  He’s a successful commander, the “saviour of his people” – and yet, he has leprosy, a damaging disease.  Naaman comes from Syria, and it was known even in Old Testament times that there was religious knowledge and wisdom in Syria.  The fortune-teller Balaam came from Syria, and he knew God by His name, Jehovah.  The Writings for the New Church reveal that the Syrians had this knowledge because the ancient church, the true church before the founding of the Jewish religion, had existed with them.  But over time that church had become corrupt.  They falsified the truth that they knew, and the church left them.

Because of all this, Syria represents knowledge of truth from the Lord’s Word – and in a negative sense, a knowledge that has been falsified.  Leprosy, too, represents a falsification of truth, and the profaning of it.  And so Naaman stands for a person, or the part of us, that knows things from the Lord’s Word; but it knows them in a false way, a twisted way.  For example, Naaman might be the voice in us that says, “All power is from the Lord, and I have no power of my own” – which is true –  “so there’s nothing I can do for my spiritual life except wait and hope for God to flow in.”  Or Naaman might be the voice in us that says, “The Bible says sinners go to hell” – which is true – “and I’m a sinner – there’s no way I’ll ever be good enough for heaven, so I might as well give up.”  Or Naaman might be the voice that says, “God will put me where I’m going to be the happiest I can be” – which is true – “so there’s no point in trying to change.” As you can see, all of those have grains of truth in them – but the truth is falsified.

Those falsities in particular – that there is no point in trying to change, in putting effort toward our spiritual life – are falsities that keep us from goodness.  They are falsities that numb us, in the way that leprosy dulls the senses of someone suffering from it.  They’re falsities that make us feel dead, and that there’s nothing we can do to change where we are.  When we’re in a state like Naaman, we’re in a state where life feels dull and meaningless, and where we feel like nothing is ever going to change.  Naaman’s leprosy seemed incurable.

But into the scene comes that young Israelite girl.  As a little child, she represents innocence.  She knows of a cure for Naaman.  And catching sight of innocence – in ourselves or in someone else – can prompt us to believe that there is something more in life, a deeper kind of joy than we have now.  Many of us give up on the ideas of ever being innocent ourselves – we’ve seen too much, we’ve done too much – but a reminder that innocence does exist can prompt us to look for something more, to look for a cure for our spiritual leprosy.

And so Naaman comes to Israel, to Elisha the prophet.  In the same way, when we have that hope that we can be cured, that something in us really can change, we can come to the church – represented by the land of Israel – and to the Word – represented by the prophet Elisha, since as a prophet he spoke the word of the Lord.  We decide to see what the church has to say, what the Word has to say, and whether it can really do anything for us.

Sometimes we do this with an attitude of humility.  But there are other times when we do it with something of that attitude of Naaman.  We want immediate, drastic, visible change in our lives, and we won’t be satisfied with anything less.

We can come with those expectations or desires.  That’s certainly what Naaman came with.  But Elisha did not come out and perform some great, powerful ritual.  Instead he sent a simple message: if you want to be cured, go dip in the Jordan river seven times, and you will be clean.  Nothing dramatic, nothing immediate – just go back and bathe in the Jordan.

It’s clear to anyone reading this that there must be some deeper significance to the Jordan river, and to washing seven times.  As a river, the Jordan represents truth.  Truth quenches our thirst for understanding in the same way that water quenches our natural thirst.  Truth washes away falsity the same way that water washes away dirt and grime from our bodies.  And the river Jordan, because it was at the entrance to the land of Israel, represents the first, basic truths we learn from the Word.  That’s why John the Baptist baptized people in the Jordan: because baptism marks an entrance into the Lord’s church and a first introduction to the basic truths of the church.  These basic truths are the ones that are found right in the literal sense of the Word: that there is a God, that He wants us to love Him and love each other, that we must not murder, or steal, or bear false witness, or commit adultery.

The Jordan represents those basic truths, and washing in the Jordan means living by them.  It especially means repenting from the evils listed in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere in the literal sense of the Word.  That’s why John preached a baptism of “repentance, for the remission of sins.”

But to return to the story of Naaman.  Just as Naaman went to Israel and listened to Elisha, we have gone to the church and listened to the Word.  But our lives were not miraculously changed in an instant.  We did not immediately learn some great answer that solved all our problems.  Instead, we are told to bathe in the river Jordan seven times – that is, to live by the most basic teachings of the Lord’s Word.

It can be disappointing.  How in the world is that going to make any difference?  These are obvious things.  Everyone knows you’re not supposed to lie.  Everyone knows you’re not supposed to commit adultery.  Everyone knows it’s bad to murder.  These are so simple – they’re too simple.

And it really can be hard to believe that these will make any difference, because often we feel like we’re basically doing them anyway.  “Sure, maybe I lie sometimes, but I don’t most of the time, and I don’t see how cutting out those times when I do lie will make that big an impact on my life.”  “Sure, I look at other women and fantasize a bit, but I love my wife, and it doesn’t seem to do any harm.”  “Yes, I’ll occasionally fudge the numbers with my job, but it’s not really hurting anyone, and stopping it wouldn’t make some huge drastic change in my life.  Maybe ideally I’d do it, but that’s not really the issue.  That can’t be the issue – it’s much bigger than those little things I’m doing.”

But the answer to those objections is simple: if those things aren’t that big a deal, than why not stop doing them?  Why not start addressing those simple, everyday ways that you break the commandments.  Maybe they aren’t the biggest issue – but if you’d be willing to do something big and grand and life-changing – why not start with the little things and see what happens?

Naaman’s servants use the same line of reasoning with him.  If you’d be willing to do something great, why not do this small thing?  And so Naaman – perhaps still not entirely believing it will work – bathes in the Jordan seven times.  Throughout the Word, the number seven represents completeness.  Bathing in the Jordan seven times means completely deciding to follow those basic commandments.  It means whole-heartedly shunning evils as sins against the Lord – not just because they’re a bad idea, or might get us in trouble, but because they are blocking the Lord’s love for us, and making our lives hellish.  Again, it’s hard to believe that those everyday things are so important – but unless we shun even these evils because they are sins against God, nothing is really going to change.

And Naaman does notice a change.  His skin becomes like that of a young boy, and he is cleaned.  That image of a young boy again calls to mind that first impulse that made us want to change – a vision of innocence.  And we can find that there is hope that even we can become innocent again, with a new kind of innocence – not an innocence of ignorance, but an innocence of wisdom.

Now the change did not take place after dipping once in the Jordan, or twice, or three times.  You can imagine what Naaman may have been thinking as he went into the Jordan again and again and saw nothing being washed away.  Is this really going to work?  And the same thing can happen if we make a commitment to shunning some everyday evil in our lives – it can seem at first like it really makes no difference at all.  A person who is fighting an addiction to pornography, for example, might force himself to stop, and to shun that as a sin against God – but still at first not notice any difference in the way he relates to his wife or his girlfriend or people of the opposite sex in general.  But if he keeps at it and continues to shun it, after months or even years, if he looks back to where he was before, he will notice that his life has changed.

Now, if a person takes credit for the change, they end up right where they were before.  But Naaman knows that it is not due to his own greatness that he was cleaned.  At the end of the story, he goes back to Elisha and offers him great riches; and when Elisha turns those down, Naaman asks only for some dirt from the land of Israel to take back with him and worship on.  Think of the change that has happened in him: from the arrogant pride when he arrive; to the humility he displays here, valuing the dirt of Israel above his own wealth and reputation.

It’s easy to hear again and again in church about repentance, and to sigh, “Yes, I’ve heard that before!”  It’s pretty mundane.  It’s not that impressive.  And because it’s so familiar, we can think it’s not going to make any difference.  But challenge yourself.  Today, after you’ve gone home from church, look at an everyday, small evil in your life, and resolve to shun it as a sin against the Lord.  Pray to the Lord for help. And you will notice the beginnings of a change.  It willopen you up to new realizations about where you are spiritually, and where the Lord can take you.  And if you keep learning truth from the Lord’s Word, and living by it, you will be made clean.  “Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh shall return to you, and you shall be clean.”


Lessons: Matthew 3:1-17; 2 Kings 5:1-19; Divine Providence 329

DP 329. What is the Decalogue at the present day but like a little closed book or religious primer, opened only in the hands of infants and children? Say to anyone of mature age, Do not do this because it is contrary to the Decalogue, and who pays any attention? But if you say, Do not do this because it is contrary to the Divine laws, he may give this his attention; and yet the commandments of the Decalogue are the Divine laws themselves. An experiment was made with several spirits in the spiritual world, and when the Decalogue or Catechism was mentioned they rejected it with contempt. The reason for this is that the Decalogue in its second table, which is man’s table, teaches that evils are to be shunned; and he who does not shun them, whether from impiety or from the religious belief that works avail nothing, but only faith, hears with some contempt the Decalogue or Catechism being mentioned as though he heard mention made of a book for children, n which is no longer of any use to him.

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister



A Sermon by Rev. David C. Roth Preached in Glenview, Illinois, August 4, 1991

“And behold, a leper came and worshipped Him saying, `Lord if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, `I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:2,3).

They say the days of miracles are over. But are the days of miracles really over? Is everything that happens nowadays completely ordinary and unmiraculous? The opinion that those days are gone is one which is hard to accept when we think of the many examples of miracles in each of our own lifetimes. For example, the miracle of birth, or the miracle that two people are able to find each other among billions and fall in love; that they are able to achieve conjugial love that true marriage love between one man and one woman, a love that is so rare, so precious. Or how about the miracle which we all hope for ourselves the miracle of being transformed from a spiritually dead person into a spiritually alive and prosperous angel for eternity; the miracle of reformation and regeneration? When we consider some of our past or present evil and selfish states, it would seem to have to take a miracle to truly change us, to heal us of our spiritual diseases.

This morning we read of a man who was healed of a disease by the Lord. The man had leprosy. Leprosy is a chronic skin disease wherein the skin slowly dies and rots away. The person suffering from this disease experiences severe pain, for his flesh is literally rotting and falling off. As you can imagine, a person suffering from leprosy was usually of hideous appearance, and was unclean to be around, let alone to touch. Lepers were cast out of society and often sent to dwell in caves and tombs. In our story the Lord had just finished preaching His sermon on the mount, and as He came down the mountain He was approached by this leper. The leper came up to Him and worshipped Him saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” The Lord willingly replied to the leper’s request, and gave him a healing touch that made him clean that very instant.

Does this story teach us that the Lord had the power to heal people of their diseases? Yes it does, but more than that it teaches of how the Lord can heal each one of us of our own spiritual diseases, those destructive tendencies or actual evils we are involved in which lead us away from loving God and our fellow man, and cause us to love and serve only ourselves. It tells of the miracle of how our spiritually fallen condition can be repaired and raised up by the Lord. This is so important for us because left untreated, spiritual diseases are evils which will destroy our willing for good or desire to strive after what is good and right, and they are also falsities which will destroy our capacity to understand truth (see AC 8364).

The Writings for the New Church teach that one who is leprous corresponds to a person who is involved in profanation; that is, someone who knows the teachings and truths of the Lord’s Word and doesn’t live according to them. How many of us have spiritual leprosy, or have had times when we were in a leprous state? We may not be completely spiritually leprous, but it is certain that we have times when we play the role of the leper when we know the truth which the Lord’s Word teaches and we just don’t follow it; instead we steal, we lie, we commit adultery, we bear false witness, we covet our neighbors’ possessions, we kill our neighbor. We can do any of these things in little ways, or maybe even in large ways, even when we know that they’re wrong. It would be a complete lie to say we are not aware of the truths that teach against these things. We know the truth; at the least, we know the Ten Commandments. But do we live them? And if we don’t, can we change for the better? Can we begin to live, to really live, according to them? The answer is yes if we want to, if we are willing.

While on earth, the Lord healed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people of their various diseases. We are taught in the Writings that, “By the diseases which the Lord healed is signified liberation from various kinds of evil and falsity which infested the church and the human race, and which would have led to spiritual death” (AC 8364). This holds true for today. If we don’t live according to the truths of the Lord’s Word, then we will die spiritually. So if we do know the truth, what is preventing us from living it? Like the leper, if we want to change our condition we are going to have to actively seek out the Lord to help us. It will not happen by chance or wishful thinking.

But where do we find the Lord? In our story the Lord just came down the mountain. What this means for us is that the Lord is the Word the Word made flesh. And the Lord has given us this Word. It has come down to us from God. The Lord has accommodated Himself to us in His Word. He has in effect descended from His holy habitation to guide our mortal steps on this earth. He has given us His Word so that we can be healed. And it is by means of the truths and goods of His Word that we can dispel the falsities and evils in our lives. He has shown us the way, and there is no other.

We know we can find the Lord in His Word, but we need to cultivate a belief that He is really there and that He can help us. Perhaps we are just like the leper. We know the truth but we just can’t seem to live it. We long for the Lord’s help, and we just can’t seem to beat the evil we are fighting to resist in our lives. We try and try, and fail and fail. What’s missing? How do we overcome our own weaknesses? What did the leper do? By following the story of the healing of the leper in the spiritual sense we are taught what we can do.

In our text the leper approached the Lord, worshipping Him. This represents humiliation on the part of the individual, the humbling of ourselves before the Lord by asking for His help. The Lord does not ask this for His own glory, but for the sake of ourselves. We need to humble ourselves. Like Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, we too easily make ourselves out to be the masters of our lives, and even of the lives of others. We too often give ourselves the credit when it is due the Lord.

The Lord gave us a commandment about our tendencies to make ourselves our own God: we shall have no other gods before His face. We need to remember His words, “Without Me you can do nothing.” We need to develop faith in Him and His power. This can be a hard lesson to learn, as it was for Naaman, but we need to learn to humble ourselves in order to approach the Lord.

The leper and many others were healed by the Lord according to their faith, that is, according to whether or not they thought He was God Almighty. Like Jesus’ words to the centurion and the blind men, “As you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And, “According to your faith let it be to you.” It was because they had faith in the Lord that they were able to be healed. We too must believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is God, the one true God, and that it is He alone who can help us. And then we must respond by living according to His Word. As the Writings strongly teach, “The faith by which spiritual diseases are healed by the Lord can be given only through truths from the Word and a life according to them” (AE 815).

Now we approach the Lord’s Word, or the Lord Himself, in our prayers. But at such times we tend to approach very meekly because we feel that He has no time for us no time for somebody who keeps messing things up, no patience for our inability to resist temptation time and time again. We doubt whether He is willing even to listen, let alone help us, at this point. Like the leper, we pray, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

This kind of humility is okay, but what we are thinking is simply not true. If we make a point of asking the Lord for His help, He will give it no doubt about it. But we have to have faith that He can do it; otherwise it will not happen. As the Lord said, “All things whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22, emphasis added). When we ask the Lord in prayer with an earnest heart desiring to change, we will get the same response as the leper. He will put out His hand and touch us saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” The Lord will immediately heal us of our spiritual disease.

But what does it mean to us to be healed? Is it a one-shot “I believe” solution, and wham! we are clean? It does mean that the Lord has forgiven us of our evils and falsities, and will hold us in good if we desire it. And this is cause for joy. As Jesus said to the paralytic whose sins He forgave, “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”

But at this point we are not really clean. We are not truly purified of our evils unless we follow up what the Lord has done for us by changing our lives stop indulging in our destructive evil thoughts, intentions, and actions, and begin living a life of charity, a life of service to the Lord and each other. We are taught that the Lord immediately forgives man of his sins because He is mercy itself. But in essence this does nothing for us unless we respond. The Lord is always forgiving us no matter what we do, but He might as well not forgive us if we don’t stop doing what is wrong. Unless we perform serious repentance, which means to stop, to really stop, doing evil, His forgiveness will do nothing to affect our salvation. Fortunately, the Lord does teach us what we need to do now that we have been pronounced clean. As He told the leper, “See that you tell no one.” He tells us the same thing. When we are forgiven, we need to continue to acknowledge that the Lord is our strength and not we ourselves. It’s an affirmation. We acknowledge the Lord’s strength in our own minds and hearts by thinking and reflecting on what He has done for us thinking that it was not something that a mortal, finite being could have accomplished. No one person could have performed this miracle except the Lord. He teaches us to do this so that our faith and our confidence in Him grow.

The next thing the leper was instructed to do was to “go your way.” Go your way. We are told that we are to get going on our new life. The word “go” is a word of action, a word telling us to start living the life the Word teaches progress into those things that are of good, of life, and leave our former life; depart from “our old way.” The Lord is the way, the truth and the life. He is the good shepherd; we are not “the way.” Our old life, the life of evil and falsity, is to be cast aside and abandoned. For example, we must leave the attitude that wants to look for the faults in others so that we can ridicule them and thence exalt ourselves. We must then adopt an attitude that looks for the good in others so that we can be of service to it; or leave the destructive life of casual sexual relations or indulgence in pornography and strive for that precious jewel of human life that pure marriage love between one man and one woman.

After this the Lord tells us to “show ourselves to the priest.” We are now to make manifest our changed condition by producing fruits worthy of repentance. We show ourselves as changed before the priest, thus before the Lord, by living according to what He has taught us. We begin a new life that seeks to do good to our neighbor and the Lord. We begin the life of charity, one day at a time, step by step. After we have shown ourselves, that is, we have begun to change our lives, we are then to “offer the gift that Moses commanded as a testimony to them.” The last thing we are asked to do is offer this gift which Moses commanded. Moses represents the Word, so that doing what Moses commanded is doing what the Lord teaches in His Word. By offering a gift is signified our living in the faith and good of love which the Word teaches, and working on learning more truths, taking one at a time, and attempting to make it permanent and fixed by living it. Living truth is doing good. We know what the Lord wants us to do. We know it so clearly, but until we start doing it we will have no power to keep in the way of the Lord no power to remain in a good state. When we offer the gift Moses commanded, we are offering up our new life as a testimony to the Lord’s healing power. By living the life the Word teaches we are confessing our faith in the Lord. It is a confession from the heart that the Lord is Divine. He is the Divine Human who has all power to heal all diseases and to comfort all pain. The only confession of faith we can make which is actual is the confession shown by a life according to His Word. If we didn’t believe in the Lord we simply would not obey His voice.

We must remember that the Lord is always willing to make us clean. He is forever willing to forgive us our trespasses. But note the words of the Lord’s prayer which we daily ask: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” To the degree that we are willing to stop our evil and turn to good, to the same degree the Lord’s forgiveness will make us whole.

The days of miracles are not over. They are over only if we let them be. The Lord will perform His miracle of healing our spiritual disease if we earnestly ask Him, and truly wish it for ourselves, knowing that it is what He wants. If we are diseased spiritually, if we are in trouble and desire the Lord’s help, we must come before Him in prayer and ask, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.” We know His response and we know the immediate outcome. “I am willing; be cleansed.” Amen.

Lessons: II Kings 5:1-15; Matthew 8:1-17; AC 9014 (portions)

Arcana Coelestia 9014 (portions)

“Thou shalt take him from Mine altar that he may die.” That this signifies damnation even although he flees to the worship of the Lord, and supplicates for forgiveness, and promises repentance, is evident from the signification of “the altar of Jehovah,” as being the chief representative of the worship of the Lord, and because it was a representative of worship, therefore “to flee to the altar” denotes to flee to the Lord, and to supplicate for forgiveness, and also to promise repentance, for the one follows the other; and from the signification of “dying,” as being damnation …

It is believed by many within the church that the forgiveness of sins is the wiping out and washing away thereof, as of filth by water; and that after forgiveness they go on their way clean and pure. Such an opinion prevails especially with those who ascribe everything of salvation to faith alone. But be it known that the case with the forgiveness of sins is quite different. The Lord forgives everyone his sins, because He is mercy itself. Nevertheless they are not thereby forgiven unless the man performs serious repentance and desists from evils, and afterward lives a life of faith and charity, and this even to the end of his life. When this is done, the man receives from the Lord spiritual life, which is called new life. When from this new life the man views the evils of his former life, and turns away from them, and regards them with horror, then for the first time are the evils forgiven, for then the man is held in truths and goods by the Lord, and is withheld from evils. From this it is plain what is the forgiveness of sins, and that it cannot be granted within an hour, nor within a year. That this is so the church knows, for it is said to those who come to the Holy Supper that their sins are forgiven if they begin a new life by abstaining from evils and abhorring them …

“There shall not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth by the sword, or that lacketh bread” (2 Sam. 3:27, 29); “one that hath an issue” signifies the profanation of the good of love; “one that is a leper” signifies the profanation of the truth of faith; “one that leaneth on a staff,” or that is lame, signifies those in whom all good has been destroyed; “one that falleth by the sword” signifies those who are continually dying through falsities; “one that lacketh bread” signifies those who are destitute of all spiritual life, for “bread” denotes the sustenance of spiritual life by good. As such were signified by “Joab,” therefore by the command of Solomon Joab was slain at the altar whither he had fled (1 Kings 2:28-32).