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.
Our NT epistle lection is the exhortation section of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. The exhortations are short encouragements for the Christian communities to behave in Christian ways. In Galatians 6 Paul is concerned with working for the “good of all.” He asks the Christians in Galatia to restore a wayward brother, to bear each other’s excessive burdens while at the same time to pull their own weight. He asks those who are taught to share with their teachers (presumably the means necessary for survival). He reminds the Galatians that God can not be mocked, and that Christians can not live by the flesh and expect harmonious life.
At the end of the letter to the Galatians Paul himself (instead of an amenuensis) takes up the physical task of writing (a highly specialized trade in the ancient world). Paul summarizes the content of the letter (a warning against those that have brought “another gospel” to Galatia in the wake of Paul’s evangelizing). It could be that Paul was having to finish his letter after his amenuensis was no longer available him. However, it is also possible and likely that Paul took over the writing of the end of his letter to add emphasis. Paul is fearful of the Galatian’s future if they should follow the false teachers, and so he writes a personal appeal for them to remain faithful to the gospel he preached.
Our gospel lection contains what many theologians call the “limited commission” (in comparison to the “great commission” found in Matthew 28). In the limited commission Jesus sends out seventy disciples to spread news of the imminent kingdom of God to the towns of Galilee. The disciples are to take little with them, and they are to rely on the hospitality of those they come into contact with on their journey that share their “peace.” If a town rejects the message of the disciples then in protest they are to shake the dust from their feet as they leave that place. Jesus instructs that disciples that on “that day” (presumably the “day of judgment”) it will be better for Sodom than for the town that rejects the message of the coming kingdom.
After a time the disciples return to Jesus with a positive report, and are excited that they are able to cast out demons. Jesus humbles the excited disciples and tells them that it is more important that their names are written in heaven then that they are able to cast out demons.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the power of God that is often found in weakness. The proclamation of the kingdom of God first went out to the small towns of rural Galilee. There humble homes welcomed in the first missionaries of the kingdom. As a result God purged them of the demons that sought their destruction. The disciples in their poverty and weakness were able to cast out these demons in the name of Jesus. Likewise in our worship, while weak in comparison to the great noise of our dominant culture, is found the heart song of the kingdom. To God be the glory.