Year B — The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Commentary for February 12, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Kings 5:1-14
The mighty and the lowly are often juxtaposed in scripture. Mountains are made low, valleys are exalted; rich men are cast down, beggars are lifted up. Ignorant fishermen are occasionally called to preach, just as learned rabbis are by-the-by given “thorns in the flesh” as they seek to minister.


Naaman, as Dr. Chilton reminds us (see sermon below), was a great man by any society’s measure. Super successful, virile alpha-male, probably even photogenic in his prime (he would be a great presidential candidate in our time, I suppose!)


But he was afflicted with a disease that was the scourge of the lowly. The great warrior was a leper. He needed some serious help from the great prophet of Yahweh, and so sets out to (eventually) find Elisha.


Interesting to note that he might never have been cured if it were not for the advice of a captive slave girl (another mighty/lowly juxtaposition in vv. 2-3.)


Though Elisha wielded great and impressive powers in his own right, there is no spectacular miracle of healing to be performed. He doesn’t even meet Naaman in person, but rather sends a messenger. “Go wash seven times in the Jordan River — that’ll do it.”

Naaman is incensed at such a simplistic prescription — he doesn’t even consider the Jordan to be a real river! It is his own servants who convince him to give it a try; seven dips and it’s done. Naaman is healed.


In what ways might God be seeking to use the lowly things of our lives to accomplish a mighty purpose? Do we complain or obey?


Psalm 30
The psalm text has language that echoes the experience of Naaman; the Lord has “drawn up” his servant. God “brings up” from Sheol.


For the burdens of mourning and sadness, God offers dancing and gladness. Good swap anytime you can get it!


I love v.12 and its association with Fanny Crosby’s gospel song text, Redeemed: “I sing for I cannot be silent, [God’s] love is the theme of my song!”     (Learn more about the song here)


1 Corinthians 9:24-27
We live in a success-oriented society — “everybody likes a winner!” Of course, we also live in an age when “every player gets a trophy” — a practice that is decried by some. I guess the flip side of everybody likes a winner is that we need a lot of losers.


I don’t think the apostle is trying to say that, in Christ, some of us (or just one of us) is going to be the “winner” in the heavenly sweepstakes, and that all the rest of us will be losers. I also don’t think that this is a case of every player gets a trophy, either.

Regardless of one’s soteriology, it seems that Paul’s point here is that living the Christ life is worth the struggle; none of us should “run aimlessly.” Imagine Usain Bolt (click here if you don’t know who Bolt is) taking off at the crack of the starter’s pistol and trotting forward a few steps, then veering off and running toward the stands, stopping to chat and grab a little popcorn…you get the idea.


“Run, Christian, run!” might be an acceptable paraphrase?


Mark 1:40-45
“If you choose…” is the challenge and approach of the leper in today’s gospel story. An interesting and novel approach to prayer, perhaps. In this instance, Jesus is moved with compassion and does choose to bring healing.


Jesus seems willing because the leper seems willing. There’s an important idea here about the way we cooperate with the power of God, I think.


Of course, there are still some unanswered questions in this account, as well. Are there times that Jesus does not choose to make one whole? Are there people who pray, seemingly willing for God’s power to be displayed, and yet no apparent healing occurs?

Later in the gospel story, it is Jesus himself who will be faced with something of a dilemma concerning God’s choice at the cross– “
Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (see Mark 14:36)


Submission; acceptance; trust. God’s mighty power at work in the lowest (and lowliest) places of our lives. My, oh my, we preachers have a lot to work with here!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Naaman was a great man. The Bible calls him a “great warrior,” and says he was “in high favor with” the King of Aram, a neighboring kingdom to Israel.

Naaman also had a problem, a weakness. He had a skin disease. The Bible calls it leprosy, but it could have been anything along the lines of eczema or psoriasis.

As the story unfolds, an Israelite girl who had been captured in war becomes a servant girl in Naaman’s household. She tells Naaman’s wife about a prophet and faith-healer over in Israel.

The wife tells Naaman and Naaman tells the king.

The King values Naaman so highly that he sends Naaman to the King of Israel with a letter of request and lots of money and gifts.

Naaman comes before the King and presents his letter. Here’s what the letter said,

When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that YOU may cure him of his leprosy.”

When he reads the letter the Israelite king panics. “What kind of trick is this?” he thinks. “He sends his great warrior in here and demands that I cure him of leprosy, what’s he trying to do, start a war? I’m not a healer, I can’t cure anybody!”

The servant girl said that a prophet in Israel could heal Naaman but somewhere along the way it turned into a request for the king to cure. The king of Aram assumed the other king had all the power in his own kingdom. And notice how quickly the king of Israel assumed that the other king was up to no good. It does not seem that much has changed in the world of politics in 3000 or so years.

If Elisha the prophet had not stepped in at this point an attempt to do a good deed for a friend could have been turned into an excuse for war.

But Elisha did step in. He invited Naaman and his entourage to come to his house for healing.

But the misunderstandings weren’t over yet.

Naaman shows up at Elisha’s house, fully expecting a grand welcome.

I suspect he also had a preconceived notion as to how things were supposed to go when one goes to a faith-healer. He was looking for ceremony and pyrotechnics and grand gestures invoking the power of the gods.

Instead, Elisha sent out a servant with a short and somewhat strange message:
Go wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will be restored and you shall be clean.”

That was all. That was it. No incantations. No “magic salve.” No “balm from Gilead.” No mumbo, no jumbo.

Just “Go. Wash. Restored. Clean.”

Now it was Naaman’s turn to get a bit reactive.

The prophet had seriously disappointed him. No royal welcome, no flashy ceremony. And wash in the Jordan? That’s just a piddly little creek compared to the great rivers of Damascus, my home town! Why can’t I wash there? This is ridiculousness. I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!

So, like a little boy on a playground who didn’t get his way, Naaman grabs up his stuff and stomps off toward home.

Once again the common folk, the servants, come to the rescue. They approach him, call him down and talk a little common sense into him.

Look, if the prophet had asked you to perform some great feat like climbing a high mountain or slaying a great monster, you would have done it. Your problem is all he did was tell you “wash and be clean.” Can you not do this simple thing?

Naaman calmed down and listened to his servants and went to the Jordan and washed three times.

And yes, his skin was restored. He was cleansed and he was healed.

And you know what. In the end, Naaman did do a great thing, or at least a thing that was difficult for him.

Naaman humbled himself in obedience to God and God’s word.

Naaman put aside his pride and his expectations and his preconceived notions and his resistance to simplicity and made a decision to trust.

Naaman didn’t trust God, but because he didn’t know or believe in the God of Israel.

Naaman didn’t trust Elisha, because Elisha didn’t act like the religious leaders he was used to.

But Naaman did trust his own servants and with that tiny sliver of trust, of faith, he was healed.

All of us need to be healed.

All of us have places of brokenness and weakness.
No matter how great or powerful or rich or successful we may be, all of us have blemishes, things that weaken us, part of ourselves we don’t want other to see.

All of us need to be healed in some way at some time in our lives.

And all of us, like Naaman, need to learn to trust.

We need the opportunity to find a place that is safe enough that we can let go of our pride and our pain long enough to let the gentle healing power of God’s love wash over us.

And we need to remember that we are all called to a life of servanthood.

Remember; Naaman didn’t trust God, Naaman didn’t rust the official religious person Elisha, but he did trust those who served him.

We are servants of God and servants to each other.

Many times we will be the only voice of hope and love another person in our life will be able to hear.

We are called take responsibility for speaking gently and in love to those around us, constantly reminding them of the simple power of God’s love.

We are called today, as individuals and as a community of faith, to allow ourselves to be healed by God’s love.

It is not an easy thing to do. Many things can stand in our way.

Let us be like Naaman and let go of those things.

Gathering whatever sliver of faith we can muster, let us give ourselves into the simple love of God, trusting that it will change our lives forever.

Amen and amen.

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