Unwinding from our worship gathering at Snow Hill I am still thinking about the young Israelite slave girl in 2 Kings 5. I am thinking of her yet as a “type” for the modern church in the West and in particular the AmericaWest. We often jump right past her as we give attention to the politics that kept the King of Israel from perceiving the letter from the King of Syria as an occasion to point to the goodness of God. We are taken by the miracle of both flesh and faith with Naaman. We feel incensed at Elisha’s slave who accepted the gift under false pretense.
What if we viewed her deportment as the manner for life in a pluralistic culture? Evangelical culture warriors decry the diminishing Judeo-Christian ethos in America. Everyone is calling for a “take America back” sort of movement. The slave girl did not decry her re-location but lived faithfully in her less than desirable nation – that is, she surely would have preferred her own. Rather than hope that Naaman, and so Syria, “got theirs,” she was on the ready to do “good to everyone” even if that “everyone” held her as a slave. She wanted what was best for Naaman.
Too often it is easy to vilify those with a disposition that runs counter to our own Christian sensibilities. What would happen if in our living out life in this ordinary time we could bring ourselves to first think about how we could do good to everyone? Even toward those pre-disposed to think we experience faith as an opiate or a language game that can neither be falsified or verified.
What would it mean as a sign and a foretaste of the Kingdom of God we so ardently push to demonstrate a kindness characteristic of the Triune God? We seem to be more bent to pronounce our anathemas and call attention to abominations as if these things surprise us or will make them go away.
Here we are on July 4th. Celebrating our history and freedom. Honoring those who have chosen to serve in our Country’s Armed services. We also find it a time to quickly point out how things have changed – times and sentiment toward Christianity in particular. And yet, despite the changes in her location and the apparent malaise in Israel, the slave girl remained benevolent toward all, ready with a witness to her good God, even for a foreigner.
Maybe we should spend more time hoping we would experience the kind of transformation that presents local Christian communities as benevolent signposts expressing God’s goodness rather than outposts calling us to a bygone cultural era. The former demonstrates we have been paying attention to Jesus and the Sacred Text. Following the latter illustrates an adventure in missing our location.
4 comments on “The Church As Benevolent Slave Girl”
Todd – Quite a poignant reading of the passage, and you’re quite right that the natural impulse is to skip right over the significance of the slave girl. My own particular preconditioning landed me on the behavior of Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, as a metaphor for contemporary American priorities, both in the Church and outside it.
Given your focus on Independence Day, perhaps one could say that the American mythos of “freedom” and “independence” makes it extremely difficult for many Americans – and not just Christians – to identify with the position of the slave. Indeed, the discourse of the contemporary Tea Party movement is filled with assertions that Americans are being “enslaved” by their government and may need recourse to “Second Amendment solutions”. What could be more antithetical to the lesson you derive from 2 Kings or to the Gospels in general?
Apparently it did not escape notice of the Gospel writers that Jesus’ view of the matter was radically different. Enough so that His comments were captured by Luke (22:25-26), Matthew (23:10-11) and Mark (9:33-35):
Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.”
One would be hard-pressed to find a better critique of American exceptionalist ideology than that, even when expressions of our cultural superiority are cloaked in the rhetoric of the white man’s burden.
Keep up the important and godly work, my friend.
I had not thought of Gahazi in that way. But, antennae prove helpful to seize another way in which we often blow right by Jesus’ Christianity community constituting words showing deference rather to our own radicalized version centered on odd notions for “freedom” and “independence.”
Todd – Perhaps Gehazi thought he was working for the “Profit” rather than the “Prophet”. An understandable mistake to make, I suppose.