2 KINGS 5:1-17c
This is a story about a miracle that the prophet Elisha performed in the Northern Kingdom of Israel (aka Samaria). It is also a story about pride and humility.
Note: The selection to be read in church omits verses 4-6. I have included them here, to avoid confusion.
- Naaman was the head of the military in the army of the Aramites. Aram was situated just north of Samaria. It’s capital was Damascus. Naaman was not only a great warrior, but he was a “great man”. The Hebrew word translated as “great” in this translation could also be translated as “influential”. The good news was that this man, who was a great warrior and influential, was highly respected by the king of Aram. The bad news is that he had leprosy. Leprosy was a contagious, incurable disease. A cure for this disease was only discovered in the mid-1940’s. People suffering from it experienced crippling of the hands and feet, paralysis, and blindness. Because it was so contagious, there were laws which excluded its victims from normal society. (v. 1)
- The Aramites went to war, off and on, against the Northern Kingdom. On one of these battles, a Samaritan girl had been taken captive, and became the handmaiden to Naaman’s wife. This slave girl knew of Elisha, and believed that he could heal Naaman’s leprosy. She mentioned him to Naaman’s wife., who must have then mentioned it to Naaman. (vv. 2-3)
- Naaman is desperate to be cured of this shameful disease, so he goes to the king, and tells him. The king offers to write a letter to the king of Samaria. In order to hide his shame, Naaman heads south with a mammoth amount of money, as well as ten fancy suits of clothes. (vv. 4-5)
- Naaman first goes to the king of Samaria with the letter. The king freaks out! How can you expect someone to cure leprosy? He tears his garment as an outward sign of his internal agony. He’s also afraid that Naaman’s king is trying to start a fight. (vv. 6-7)
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- Elisha, on the other hand, tells the king—“Why did you do that? Send him to me, so I can show him the power of our God.” (v. 8)
- So, Naaman proceeds to Elisha’s house, dressed to the nines, riding in a war chariot pulled by war horses, and bringing a treasure chest full of money. All of this is intended to impress Elisha into doing something for this foreigner. But Elisha is not impressed. He doesn’t even come out to see Naaman. Instead, he sends a servant out to tell him what to do. What an insult! (vv. 9-10)
- Naaman is visibly upset. He has not only been upstaged by Elisha, but he was told to simply wash in the river! He wants nothing to do with it, and leaves in a rage. (vv. 11-12)
- His servants convince him to do as he was instructed. In humility, he goes to the river and washes seven times, as instructed. It works! (vv. 13-14)
- He returns to Elisha, praising the God of Israel. And he gave him the present of money. (v. 15)
I believe that Naaman had to first learn to be humble, before he could approach the man of God for healing. The same holds true for us. It is impossible to approach God without humility.
2 TIMOTHY 2:8-15
Paul continues to give Timothy (and us) some very useful device, in spite of the fact that Paul is chained and in a Roman prison.
- In verses 8 & 9, Paul instructs Timothy to remember something. And in eight short words, Paul explains why he is not ashamed to be in chains in a Roman prison. The words below in bold type are the words. Each has my explanation. Paul says that Jesus is:
- Christ—the Anointed One. The Messiah.
- Raised from the dead—His resurrection is the proof positive we need to put our trust in him.
- Descendant of David—He is our king. The promised rule of the Davidic line has been restored.
- Paul says it is for this reason that he suffers—to bring the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus to all. (v. 10)
- What follows is either a summary of his other teachings, or an old Christian hymn which encourages us to be faithful, even in the face of suffering or embarrassment. (vv. 11-13)
- We are reminded that when we Christians argue amongst ourselves, that not only do we accomplish nothing, but we taint the name of Jesus to those [non-believers?] who might be listening. (v. 14)
- Paul closes with words of encouragement. Don’t be ashamed, but present yourself with confidence, as you are approved by God himself. Good advice for us as well! (v. 15)
Paul’s eight words say it all. The problem we Christians have is that we can’t keep it that simple. We need to wrangle with one another, discussing the finer points of prayer, number of sacraments, what a proper baptism is and isn’t, when to baptize, etc. We fail to realize how foolish we look to non-believers. In one breath we say “love your neighbor”, and in the next we argue with our brothers and sisters over details. Yet, we all agree on those eight words. Let’s get along!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals ten lepers. I believe that this miracle was to demonstrate to others that his spiritual prowess was on a par with Elisha’s. But other dynamics are also at work here.
- Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, which will be is a one-way trip. But at the time of this story, he is in the border area between Galilee and Samaria. While the Jews tolerate Gentiles, they hate Samaritans. Oddly, Samaritans worship the God Yahweh, but have somewhat different traditions than Judean Jews. I guess their “wrangling” over details went ballistic at some point in time. (v. 11)
- Ten lepers approach him, but at a distance. As lepers, this was required by Mosaic Law. After all, they were highly contagious. (v. 12)
- They call Jesus “Master”, which was normally a title for Jesus that only his disciples used. I take it as an expression of humble admiration. They ask for mercy. (v. 13)
- Jesus heals them on the spot, and tells them to show themselves to the priest. This was the instruction from the Torah—if you were cleansed from leprosy, a priest needed to examine you. If he deemed you clean, you could re-enter society. If not, you were still an outcast, and could not touch or come in contact with anyone. (v. 14)
- One of the ten was so elated at being cured, that he returned to Jesus, shouting praises to God. “And he was a Samaritan.” (vv. 15-16)
- Jesus is quick to point out that this “foreigner” was the only one of the ten to return and praise him. He sends the former leper on his way. (vv. 17-19)
This story, and the story of the good Samaritan, makes it clear that Jesus’ promise of saving grace is not reserved for “God’s Chosen People”, but for everyone; it is for the most despised group of people you can think of. Even this despised Samaritan.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Why is it, then, that if a foul-smelling homeless person steps into the back pew of our church, we are disgusted, and can’t wait for them to leave?