Big and Little

Naaman was a ‘great man,’ says the book of Kings. The word great can literally mean big. Naaman, we are told, was a Big Man. He commanded iron-fierce armies and led overwhelming military campaigns, the sort that build empires and fill both lore and legend. Naaman owned vast estates and held the confidence of royals. When Naaman snapped, people rushed into motion.

Our world is filled with big people, or at least filled with people striving for this prize. Many of us aim to live big lives and build big buildings and write big books and, God help us, build big churches. Something’s quite good about the desire to make a mark, to do our best and live a life that matters. This quest for bigness, though, is a cancer. An inflated ego eats away at all the good, all the simplicity, all the humanness of our efforts.

Naaman was a big man used to being in command, but he could not control the leprosy ravaging his body. Eaten up with the disease, this big man’s options were running out, his life was running out. But the Scripture says that a young slave girl, a girl Naaman had ripped from family and home during one of his military campaigns, had compassion and told Naaman that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal him. We’re given a stark contrast here. The word translated young can literally mean little. There’s Big Naaman and then there’s the little girl.

After long travels and a humorous confrontation with Israel’s king, Naaman lands at the prophet Elisha’s doorstep. Only Elisha does not greet the Big Man, Elisha only sends his servant with the message for Naaman to dunk seven times in the Jordan River in order to be healed. Big Naaman was not used to such cavalier treatment. Naaman had done what big, powerful people do – he had carried massive wealth, the sort of resources and capital big people leverage, in order to buy what he wanted. Grace, however, cannot be bought. Grace can only be received.

Naaman gathers his entourage and his booty and takes off in a huff, wanting nothing to do with this strange prophet who knows nothing of the ways of power. But compassionate servants appear in the story again, imploring Naaman to reconsider. “If Elisha had asked you to do something difficult, you would not have hesitated,” the servants say. “Then why not something simple?” When the servants speak of something difficult, they use the same word translated great at the beginning of the narrative, the word we’ve understood as big. In other words, Big Naaman wanted to commandeer a Big gesture. Big people feel comfortable when they stay in charge, when their efforts overwhelm the moment and win the day.

But often, it is the quieter people, the ones who might even seem little to us, who often readily see the ways of grace, the ways of love. There are people, thank God, who do not need to fill the room with their persona but are at home in their body and at home with their God – and they have the discernment and courage to say a simple word in the moment when a simple word is needed. I’ve noticed this with Miska, in the ways she prays with others. Miska is very present, but she is not overly visible. Her presence reminds people they are not alone, but her presence opens up people’s view of God, not their view of Miska. I want to be more like this.

Of course, I know that in our anti-institutional, cynical world, being ‘little’ can be merely a new way to engineer being ‘big.’ Perhaps the issue isn’t so much big or little but simply being who God has made us to be, living out of the love that has been given us.

12 Replies to “Big and Little”

  1. “But often, it is the quieter people, the ones who might even seem little to us, who often readily see the ways of grace, the ways of love. There are people, thank God, who do not need to fill the room with their persona but are at home in their body and at home with their God – and they have the discernment and courage to say a simple word in the moment when a simple word is needed.”

    That struck home, Winn. My persona is big and fills the room. It comes natural and mostly I don’t work at it (anymore), but I long to be the quiet one who readily sees the ways of grace, and of love. I wan to be at home with my body and my God, quietly. This longing goes against the grain of my natural personality and sometimes I feel condemned and guilty for it. My dad was diagnosed with prostate and bone cancer in May and I’m learning the importance of a simple word. Life, it’s a process.

    1. I long for the quiet too, Rebekah. My word lately has been ‘gentle.’ I want to be a ‘force of gentleness,’ particularly with my family. My mom is struggling with bone cancer as well. I’ll offer a prayer for your dad.

  2. Winn, that’s a beautiful thought, one made even more striking for having been expressed well. Naaman wanted everything to be grandiose, but then again, don’t we all? We want the hurricane moment when God prefers to use a still small voice. To be truly little, to live simply and definitely….that is the challenge. It’s also where the greatest blessing is to be found. Many thanks for the lesson.

  3. Winn, keep writing,…you always encourage me with your words and thoughts. Thank you today for being faithful to the one we hope someday to see face to face. It’s easy to think of my life as so small compared to others. We need those “achievers’ but I think our notion of what each human being has to give is very narrow. Keep helping us keep in view the truest measure of love…..Blessings.

  4. “Her presence opens up people’s view of God.” What a beautiful statement. It reminds me of Acts 4:13, where Peter and John are recognized as having been with Jesus. I want to be more like this too, Winn! Thanks for your words. You do have a way with them.

  5. Love the tag to this, Winn. Gotta always be checking those motives, I guess.

    i love this story from scripture and I’ll be posting on old sermon on it in a week or so. I’ve got a small series going this summer as a means of archiving a few sermons for my grandkids, should they ever be interested in seeing what a Nana-Preacher looked like.

    I, too, was struck by the servants as key players in this drama. But also, I reflected that Naaman must have been a sort of decent boss for them to have responded as they did to him. He had a big attitude, but he must also have had a softer side, which is true for most of us, I think. We’re a mixed up mess.

    I am so sorry to read of your mom’s struggle – she will go on the morning prayer-walk list.

    1. I like you leaving your sermons for your grandkids. I surely wish my grandfather had done that. Indeed, Naaman had a big upside, he was a complex mix of grime and grace, kind of like the Apostle Peter, kinda like me I guess. Thanks for the prayers for my mom.

  6. I feel a bit lighter after reading this, maybe that feeling is just me becoming a bit littler. Wonderful piece, thank you.

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