2 Kings 5:1-14
(An excellent commentary by Steed Davidson on this passage is found here.)
The story of the healing of Naaman the Aramean appears several times in the lectionary cycle and is often paired with a gospel story recording the healing of a leper. The story of Naaman, however, is less about leprosy and healing than it is about God’s ability to reverse the tables on power. Naaman, who is leprous, is aided by an Israelite servant girl (likely the spoil of war) who directs Naaman to the Israelite prophet Elisha for healing. Naaman the “great man” and “commander of the army” and “high in favor” and a “mighty warrior” had never heard of Elisha. The Israelite servant girl proves more capable of providing help to ‘mighty’ Naaman than all the wise men of Syria.
When Elisha prescribes dipping seven times in the Jordan as the cure for Naaman’s leprosy the nameless servants of Naaman must convince their master to follow through with the treatment. Naaman’s comments divulge Naaman’s feelings of entitlement, power, and superiority, “I thought that for me he [Elisha] 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?” The faith of Naaman’s servants prove critical in Naaman’s healing–without their encouragement the “might warrior” would have succumbed to the horrors of leprosy.
Namaan’s story reminds us that the power of God is often found in places of perceived weakness, and that the least amongst us often are the ones pointing most clearly to God’s healing.
Rolf Jacobson calls Psalm 30 “the most beautiful lyric in the Psalter.” Psalm 30 is a psalm of thanksgiving to God for a deliverance from sickness (“O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me”). It is an appropriate response to both the Hebrew Bible lection and the gospel lection which record healings from leprosy.
The psalmist of Psalm 30 encourages the gathered congregation to praise the God of deliverance who rescues people from Sheol (the pit). The psalmist recounts how he/she cried out to God in a time of need. The psalmist explained to God that if the psalmist died then the psalmist would no longer be able to praise God. This is an interesting (perhaps coercive) argument to make in supplication to the deity. The psalm does not offer a judgment on the argument (whether or not it is a good tact to take with God or not) but it does indicate the psalmists earnest desire to praise God in life. When facing our own illnesses we often consider separation from our family and friends, yet seldom do we consider the absence of our life-long praise to God.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 can best be summarized by the old axiom: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.
Sports metaphors for the faith are dangerous. Paul is not warning us that if we don’t run fast enough we’ll be losers. And he is not instructing us that by our hard work alone we become winners. The point Paul is making is that if people discipline themselves hard for temporal crowns and medals that tarnish, then how much more should the people of God discipline themselves for the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
Paul’s comments about “punishing his body” are not meant to suggest the ascetic life. Elsewhere Paul (or possibly the tradition of Paul) is very critical of the ascetic life (e.g. Philippians 3:2; Colossians 2:23). The wider context reminds us that Paul is speaking of giving up rights for the sake of others (of which punishing the body is a metaphor), and disciplining ourselves so that nothing inhibits our gospel proclamation.
Sarah Henrich points out a reversal of fortunes in her commentary on Jesus’ healing of a leper in Mark 1:40-45: “The realities of the leper and Jesus are switched within five verses. The leper who ought not enter a community without being freed from his ailment returns to his village, his priest, and his role in life. Jesus is suddenly unable to enter a village and is kept from his role in life.”
The reversal is indicative of Jesus’ coming plight. As Jesus breaks the bonds of oppression found in the world, and thus heals the world, the world will summarily reject him. This sad irony is opposite the demeanor of the psalmist who encourages the congregation to praise God as a proper response to deliverance.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for the celebration of worship consider your own deliverance and response. When we receive the graces of God, do we offer up praise and discipline ourselves for gospel proclamation, or do we enjoy our might and privilege, and judge those who are in need of the same graces?