We don’t even know her name. She is remembered only as “the little girl.” The little girl who was ripped from the arms of her mother and father, kidnapped and carried away to a strange land. The little girl who was forced into servitude. The little girl who remained anonymous and powerless. Yet without her, one of the great biblical stories would never have happened. Her master is Naaman, a man with a name. He’s not just your average Joe. Naaman is a powerful man, a general, but he suffers from leprosy. You might think the little girl would secretly delight in her master’s skin disease. “Aha! He’s getting what he has coming!” But no, she says, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria. Then he would cure him of his leprosy,” (2 Kings 5:3). And so begins a series of events that lead to Naaman journeying to Samaria, visiting the prophet’s home, washing in the Jordan river, and coming out of the water with his flesh healed. His skin was restored like the skin of a little child—like the skin of the little servant girl back home. This great and mighty general, when he is cleansed by the word of God in the water of the Jordan, becomes like the small and lowly servant girl.
The little girl is easily forgotten for she is in the shadows. Not even her name is remembered. Yet without her—without her humility, without her compassion, without her taking no thought for being last—this miracle would never have occurred. The most powerless person in this story is the key to it all. God uses her who is nothing to effect everything.
Jesus might well have told this story to his twelve followers as he gathered them around himself to say, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all,” (Mark 9:35). He might have said, “You guys were arguing along the way about which of you is the greatest. Well, let me tell you. If any of you wants to be first, let him be like the little unnamed girl who served the great and mighty Naaman. Let him be nothing and then he will be something.”
Here is how God works: when he wants to make something, he always uses nothing to do it. From the creation of the world onward, he is the kind of God who reverses our expectations. With him opposites always attract: he makes beauty from ugliness, power from weakness, life from death, glory from suffering, Easter from Good Friday, first from last, everything from nothing. The moment you think you have God figured out is likely the moment you are most confused. God is not who you want him to be, who you think him to be. He specializes in the use of nothingness. With God, even math is different: something times zero is always more than zero.
Our lives could easily be characterized as a constant rebellion against the way God is, and the way he wants us to be. For like the builders of the tower of Babel, we want to make a name for ourselves. We’re always laying bricks on our little name-towers. Ambition fuels this self-interest. People become stepping stones on our chosen paths of self-glorification. How can I use this person? How can I manipulate this friendship? Which backs do I need to rub, which hands do I need to shake, which people do I need to attack, to construct my name-tower, to feel like I’m important in this world.
Perhaps we don’t even realize it, but the underlying reason we fight so hard to get recognition is because we assume that, without it, we are worthless and our lives are meaningless. In order to count, to mean something, even to God himself, we must do something, anything, to make ourselves worthy of being noticed. We long to be loved, especially by God, whether we know it or not. But we go about it all wrong. We assume that we must make ourselves lovable before he will love us. We must be something, accomplish something, make a name for ourselves, be first—or, at least, not last. Ultimately, the lie we have believed is that God is like we are.
He is not. Thank God that he is not. He is the Lord who reverses all our expectations. He shows us that a little servant girl, nameless and powerless, is the perfect choice for him to do great things. Rather than building a tower to make a name for himself, Christ submits to death upon a cross to give his name to us. God himself becomes last of all, servant of all, that he might make us first of all, kings and queens, coheirs with him of the glory of the Father.
All this he does because we are anything but worthless to him. Even while we were still his enemies, indeed, even before we existed, from all eternity, he has loved us. With God, we count. We mean something. He does not look for people worthy of his love; his love, unmerited and unexpected, makes us lovely.
But it is a strange way he does this, for first he makes us nothing. He puts in his own Jordan, like leprous Naaman. We come with nothing in our hands but sin. And we leave with nothing in our hands but the life of God in Christ. Our leprosies of self-interest and self-glorification; our leprosies of ambition and tower-building and honor-seeking are flooded out by those waters. And in their place, God washes us into the kingdom of his Son. He makes us nothing that he might make us something greater than we could ever imagine. In the Jordan of our baptism, we become little children, sons and daughters of God. The river is wet with his grace, flooded with his mercy that flows from the body of the Son who is the spring of eternal life. In Christ, we see God as he truly is. He is the Lord who gives us his name—the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—that in his name we who are nothing might have everything.
(This meditation was written for LINC San Antonio. It is based on the Gospel reading for Pentecost 17 [Mark 9:30-37]).