Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Tragedy of Almost

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 12.18.10

“A fascinating study done by Professor Vicki Medvec reveals the relative importance of subjective attitudes over and above objective circumstances. Medvec studied Olympic medalists and discovered that bronze medalists were quantifiably happier than silver medalists. Here's why: Silver medalists tended to focus on how close they came to winning gold, so they weren't satisfied with silver; bronze medalists tended to focus on how close they came to not winning a medal at all, so they were just as happy to be on the medal stand.”[1]
How do you feel about coming in second – being almost best?  Maybe once or twice isn’t too bad, but what about time after time?  What if you had to spend all your time with the person who always comes in first or actually worked for that person?  A man named Gehazi experienced just that.
Do you remember him?  Gehazi was the faithful side-kick of Elisha, and he really was faithful for a long time.  But somewhere along the way, something changed.  By the time Naaman came to see Elisha, Gehazi must really have been feeling the sting of being second.
“Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.’
“The prophet answered, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.’ And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
“‘Go in peace,’ Elisha said. …
“After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, ‘My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him.’
“So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. ‘Is everything all right?’ he asked.
“‘Everything is all right,’ Gehazi answered. ‘My master sent me to say, “Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.”’  2 Kings 5:15-22
Why?  Why do you think Gehazi did that?  I can’t imagine it was the first time Elisha had refused gifts of gratitude from people who he had helped.  What made this time different?
Maybe it was because Naaman wasn’t a Jew.  Maybe it was the amount of the reward.  Maybe it was just the cumulative effect of all the rewards that Elisha had turned down before?  Think about it.  Elisha and Gehazi had been traveling and working together for years.  Prophets don’t seem to have lived lavish, or even comfortable lives and there goes Elisha turning down another gift that, to Gehazi’s mind, would have taken some of the discomfort out of their daily activities.  And he snapped.  He wasn’t going to watch that wealth ride away with Naaman.
It was a similar issue that caused Judas to “turn to the dark side” too, wasn’t it?  In fact, there are several similarities between Judas and Gehazi.  I don’t know how long Gehazi and Elisha had been working together, but it seems to have been several years.  Judas traveled with Jesus for over 3 years.  Both Elisha and Jesus performed all kinds of miracles.  Both Jesus and Elisha lived simply, focused on serving others.  Both Judas and Gehazi seemed to be getting the message.  They went through the motions anyway.  And then, one day, greed got them in trouble.
I believe it was more than just simple greed though.  I think it was a lack of respect for the person in the number 1 spot.  It seems like both Gehazi and Judas somehow were getting the wrong message:  instead of seeing the selfless service and caring of Jesus and Elisha, they began to reinterpret their position as “handler” rather than companion. 
Companion and handler may look the same in many ways, but different in one crucial area.  A handler is someone who monitors and maybe even corrects the behavior of the person he (or she) handles.  A very subtle sense of superiority creeps into the relationship and the handler begins to see himself as actually the most important person involved, making it easier for him to begin to lose his sense of awe at the greatness of the other person.  From there it’s a short hop to believing that he should really be the one making the decisions and wielding the power. 
“The heart not given entirely to the control of Jesus Christ has a door open for Satan to enter, and the archdeceiver weaves about the soul ingenious apologies in performing its hidden purposes of evil. All these excuses and pretensions are seen of God, and are as spiderwebs in the eyes of Him who never slumbers or sleeps. Oh, how readily will the human soul find poor and wretched excuses to deceive and cover up its own course of evil, which it pursues. There is an exact judge who weigheth actions. He cannot be deceived, neither can He be mocked. He will one day strike off the covering, unveil the conscience, and sweep away these excuses as smoke.”[2]
Do we sometimes think we know better than God – that we should take control of our own lives?  That’s exactly where the enemy wants us.  Beware…

[1] Mark Batterson, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day(Multnomah, 2006), p. 68

[2] E.G. White, Christ Triumphant, page 171

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