Matthew 28.16-20 (NIV)
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Have you ever come across something that was so good, you couldn’t help it, there was no way you could keep it to yourself?
That happened to four guys in ancient Israel. They stumbled across something so good, they had to share it.
We see their story in 2 Kings 7.
These guys were stuck.
The people around them were stuck too.
I’m curious if King Jehoram symbolized just how stuck everything and everyone was back then. His people were in bad shape. The king of Aram surrounded Jehoram’s city with his army. Nothing could get in or out. The Aramean army intercepted all the shipments of food and supplies intended for the city. The Arameans accumulated more than they needed while people in the city had to figure out how to get by with less. The siege caused something like a famine in the city. The food they had was ridiculously expensive … and pretty gross. People were paying a premium for things like donkey heads and seed pods (some other translations call it “doves’ dung” … seed pods sounds more appetizing!) … people were even eating and doing much more troubling things to stay alive.
The king was discouraged and pessimistic. He doesn’t seem to doubt God’s existence or power … he has heard so much bad news and seen so many disturbing things, he has started to doubt God has any good will toward his people.
Sure things were hard.
But God was far from absent.
Through the prophet Elisha, God was doing amazing things … but it didn’t seem to change the king’s view of God.
In a moment of exasperation, the King told Elisha, God’s spokesperson, “This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?”
Elisha said things were going to be better soon. In fact, tomorrow, people would be buying and selling flour and barley (regular food) for regular prices.
The king and his officers weren’t convinced. How could they trust God to do anything good for the people. How could things change that fast? For all they knew God had caused this problem and was going to keep things the way they were.
After he delivers God’s message to the king, Elisha fades out of view and the story focuses on those four lepers who were stuck between the Aramean army and a city wall.
These guys were in a hopeless situation.
They had some sort of skin disease everyone thought was contagious. They were stuck outside the city walls in quarantine. Moses’ law taught that lepers were supposed to “Wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their faces when they were in public and cry out to anyone close enough to hear, ’Unclean! Unclean!’ … they had to live alone outside the community” (Lv. 13.45-46).
So much of their lives had to do with bad news.
They had to look like bad news.
They had to announce bad news whenever they saw another person.
On one side their backs were up against the wall of a city that didn’t want them around.
On the other side, there was an army set on destroying their community.
Talk about stuck.
… [the four guys] said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die” (2 Kg. 7.3-4).
What a depressing way to make a decision!
At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, no one was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!” So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives (2 Kg. 7.5-7).
I think this is supposed be kind of a funny picture … these outcasts … making a decision out of complete desperation … giving themselves over to the enemy … stumbling their way into the camp … wind up plundering the enemy without even holding a weapon.
The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp, entered one of the tents and ate and drank. Then they took silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also (2 Kg. 7.8).
They looked around.
They thought about all those people in the city who were starving … it hit them.
Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”
So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, “We went into the Aramean camp and no one was there—not a sound of anyone—only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.” The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace (2 Kg. 7.9-11).
They had been stuck in so much bad news … now they had a different message … now they had good news. Instead of their humiliating message, “Unclean! Unclean!” They had good news of life and relief … a whole camp full of food and supplies was waiting.
Maybe the news was too good to be true … maybe the king was too deeply embedded in his pessimistic understanding of God. The king was convinced the whole story was an elaborate set up for a trap. The four guys were persistent. Some of the king’s officials were sure they were all going to die anyway, so why not at least check it out.
It turned out that it was good news … everything they needed, was there waiting, just in front of them.
In God’s surprising way, good news comes from the most unlikely messengers. This has to be one of those great “Kingdom reversals” Jesus loves telling people about … where the last are the first and the servants are the leaders
At the end of the story, we are reminded Elisha was right. The next day everything was different. The deeper claim in this story challenges the king’s pessimistic understanding of God. God is not against his people. The good news in the story is that God is oriented toward humanity with goodwill. That is a powerful claim for our time and culture as well. God is not working against us. God is for us … willing life and restoration and reconciliation to the world.
This claim is what we see again and again in Jesus. This is what the gospels are writing in bold, underlining, and highlighting … God’s orientation toward humanity is goodwill … even more than that, God’s orientation toward you and me, toward the world is love. We are called and invited to live in that love … to yield to God’s purposes.
Jesus shows us how wide and deep, how overflowing and unstoppable God’s love is.
Jesus entrusts us with this good news!
This is our mission as disciples … this is our calling together as Christ’s church, to pass along the message, “Today is a day of good news” … God’s relationship with you is shaped by goodwill and love.
This is a message we can’t keep to ourselves!