A good deal of my personal idiomatic dictionary revolves around the Simpsons, but only really from the period of about seasons 5-9. I quit watching the show with any regularity while I was in college, but it had long since done its job to embiggen my vocabulary with perfectly cromulent words. During season 8 there was an episode entitled “Bart after Dark,” in which Bart, after breaking a gargoyle at what turns out to be a burlesque house, has to work the front door in order to pay off the damage. Hilarity ensues, of course, especially when Grandpa Simpson comes through the front door.
If you watch that gif closely, you can see in Grandpa Simpson’s eyes the moment that repentance takes place. Which leads me to the Bible because, of course it would.
Sunday’s Track 2 Old Testament lesson, disjointed as it may be, is a perfect story of repentance. It even uses the Hebrew word “shoob” that would become the Greek “metanoia,” which is the basis of our idea of repentance.
Naaman was a hard-hearted sort of guy. He had to be. As a military leader, his success was dependent upon his ability to lead men into battle. This task is not for the faint of heart, and the author of 2 Kings tells us that Naaman was very good at his job. To top it off, he suffered from leprosy, a disease which, under normal circumstances, would have left Naaman ostracized and jobless, but this was not the case for Naaman. Likely due to nothing more than his own tenacity in sticking up for himself, Naaman was able to keep his rank, his power, and his prestige, despite his unsightly affliction.
Still, Naaman knew that his life would be a whole lot easier if he was cured of his leprosy, and so, when his wife’s slave girl told him of a prophet in Israel who might be able to help him, he swallowed his pride and went. His stiff-neck was bowed up at the prescription of Elisha, and yet, he was convinced by his servants to try and bathe seven times in the Jordan if it meant he would be healed. Slowly, in fits and starts, Naaman was making his way toward repentance.
Finally, when he arose from the water the last time and saw that he was healed, Naaman repented, literally he re-turned, making his way back to Elisha in order to give thanks and to declare, unequivocally that there was only one God in the world, and that God resided in Israel.
Naaman’s journey to repentance wasn’t easy. It required trust, some prodding, a gut check, and finally, following a set of directions that seemed ridiculous, but in the end, he found God. Sometimes, that how it works in our lives. In order to find God through repentance, it requires action. We have to first find ourselves in need. We have to trust that someone or something outside of ourselves can meet that need. We might need someone else to help us along the way. We might even find ourselves in an unknown place following a ridiculous set of instructions. In the end, when we have seen the work of God in the unlikeliest of places, true repentance then is to reorient our lives toward God and give thanks. None of this is easy, but no one said it would be. Repentance isn’t just the work of the mind or the heart, but it often requires physical action to find God’s grace.