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  • Lex McDonald

Simple Gifts and Small Acts

Updated: Mar 31


2 Kings 5: 10-14


Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Simple Gifts and Small Acts

This is a story of Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, a powerful and important man, and Elisha the prophet, a man of God.


Naaman had leprosy, and he was desperate for a cure. Elisha was a prophet, and at the suggestion of one of his servants, Naaman pays a visit to Elisha to request healing. When Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, Elisha is home but he doesn’t come to the door. He sends a message out with instructions that Naaman should go and wash in the Jordan seven times.


Naaman is angry that Elisha does not even come to the door. He feels that he is important enough to receive a face to face visit with the prophet and a quick cure. He is even more humiliated that he is instructed to wash seven times in the Jordan. Isn’t there an easier way?


But one thing Naaman has going for him is that he is willing to listen to his servants, who say to him, “Sir, if you were instructed to do something difficult you would do it. So why not do the simple act of washing in the Jordan River seven times?” So Naaman does, and he is healed of his leprosy.


This is a story of a man of pride learning to do something simple, and to do it repeatedly, in order to find healing. This story has something to teach us in this current time.


In this current crisis, the question is asked over and over again, “What should we do to help rid ourselves of this virus? What is the most important thing that can we do to avoid infection?” Over and over again we have heard the answer: “Wash your hands.”

We have heard it a hundred times, and most of us, in the last few weeks, have washed our hands at least a hundred times. For most of us, washing our hands is not something new, although we are practicing it more frequently nowadays. But we have been washing our hands, as our parents taught us, for as long as we can remember.


And now we find that this simple act carries powerful resistance. It is so simple that we may forget to do it. Or, like Naaman, we may consider ourselves above doing small things. After all, we are intelligent and capable people, able to do big things. So why shouldn’t we be doing the big things?


The story of Naaman and Elisha can help us to remember that it is the simple gifts and small acts that are the most important during this time.


So, when you wash your hands, it can be more than a mindless ritual. You can consider it an act of prayer. You can also consider it a spiritual act of self-care. You can consider it a holy ritual, done as an act of devotion and love, caring for yourself and caring for others.


We can also ask ourselves, “What are the other ways that we can practice self-care and caring for others?” We can branch out and find other simple gifts and small acts that can make a difference.


Consider simple gifts and small acts like these: Forgive yourself. Forgive someone else. Speak a word of encouragement. Make a phone call. Write a note. Make a donation.


Here are some others: Spend some time each morning in silence. Listen, and listen again. Let your prayers be focused on listening rather than speaking. Focus on hearing and understanding others around you. Focus on right now, not yesterday or tomorrow.


Simple gifts and small acts, now more than ever, are the order of the day.


For music on this topic, two familiar offerings come to mind. The first is the traditional Shaker tune:


‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free ‘Tis a gift to come down where I ought to be And when I am in the place just right I will be in the valley of love and delight

The second is this familiar hymn:


Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago.


Oh, how deep your holy wisdom! Unimagined, all your ways! To your name be glory, honor! With our lives we worship, praise! We your people stand before you, water washed and Spirit born. By your grace, our lives we offer. Recreate us; God, transform!

The 17th century monk, Brother Lawrence, suggested that we should never tire of doing the smallest things for God. His advice was never more true than today. The simple gifts and the small acts carry great weight and can have great impact, when performed with dedication and love.


So let us persevere, remembering God is with us. And God is all good, all the time. Amen



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