God Is Not American

Elisha, the prophet, cures the foreigner’s leprosy (2 Kgs 5:1-15). But first a bit of political intrigue—the king of Israel is leery of the king of Aram’s sending of Namaan. Was it a trick or trap?

Leprosy was a curse, a sign of God’s disfavor. Lepers were unclean, untouchable. Lepers were ostracized. Naaman seemed to expect more personalized service from Elisha. Elisha told him to go and bathe in the Jordan River. Naaman’s nationalism almost got in the way of his healing. “I could have bathed in the rivers of my own country”. Fortunately, Naaman rethinks things and does as the prophet bids him. He is healed.

In the wake of 9/11, our nationalism—our obsession with national security—often gets in the way of our salvation (salvation = healing = wholeness). For Christians, “My country right or wrong” does not get it. We are called to bear witness to Jesus, the nonviolent One sent by God. Misguided patriotism certainly got in the way when we stood by and let President Bush have his way with launching an immoral war in Iraq. Only a minority of Christians tried to stave off the needless bloodshed. Are we also standing by as the so-called “war on terror” in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues? Are we standing by when deadly force is being used to produce regime change in Libya?

When we stand by in the face of radical evil, we unfortunately are complicit in that evil. We need to be refreshed in our baptismal waters and allow ourselves to be healed of misguided nationalism. Note that the Israeli prophet cured a foreigner. God know no boundaries. God creates every person in the image and likeness of God.

Jesus (Lk 4:24-30) knows that, when he challenges the narrow “godly” tribalism of the people, he will be in trouble. His picture of God being bigger than theirs, he narrowly escapes being flung over a cliff but he will stay on message. He will not avoid the cross on Calvary. He has set his face toward Jerusalem.

During an extreme drought in Israel, the prophet Elijah provides food for a widow in Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel but Elisha cured a foreigner from Syria. God smiled on foreigners. How we treat foreigners—strangers among us—matters. Immigration reform, which should be a matter of deeply held religious convictions, has become a political football. Posturing against “illegal” (no human is illegal) aliens gets one re-elected.

People get really angry when someone challenges their concept of God, especially if their concept is small and narrow. Jesus is telling the people that they need to get a broader concept of God. Their picture of God needs to be enlarged.

Our concepts of God are just that—concepts, images, pictures that satisfy us. God, however, is beyond all concepts of God. Perhaps, this is why Gandhi said that every person has a piece of the truth. God is not the god of American capitalism who bestows material blessings on people who go to church and say their prayers. God is not the God of the National Football League whom every touchdown scorer recognizes by pointing to the sky. God is not the angry heaven-bound “Father” figure who is toting up every misdeed and punishing accordingly.

Naaman–the original Frank Sinatra–wanted it his way. He wanted to be healed on his own terms. It does not work my way. When Naaman followed God’s will–God’s way, as expressed through the prophet, he found salvation and healing.

God is God. God will continue to be God in spite of our efforts to bottle God up. As the Psalmist reminds us, our souls are thirsting for the living God. When shall we see God face to face?

We must look to the incarnate Jesus who reveals the face of God to us. Jesus tells us that God is nonviolent, compassionate, merciful, just, forgiving and loving. Jesus shows us how to live in union with God. After all, our only purpose is to be with God and love God and each other.

Our mission is to pray, to contemplate and to be at one with the God who calls us to life in its fullness. We need to let go and to let God be God. God is bigger than any of our individual or collective boxes.


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