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Monday, June 28, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: II Kings 5:1-14 and Psalm 30:1-12, Isaiah 66:10-14 and Psalm 66:1-9, Galatians 6:1-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The reading for II Kings involves an encounter between the representatives of two nations whose relations with one another are not particularly friendly. The people of Aram (part of Syria with Damascus as its capital) share some common ancestry with the people of Israel but are also a constant threat to them.

The story probably has some political significance. Certainly the young girl in the story began her life among the Arameans as a prisoner of war. She has become the servant of a high-ranking commander of Aram’s army. (II Kings 5:2) This commander, Naaman, suffers from leprosy. (vs. 1) Some might think the young captive girl would rejoice over the suffering of her captor. Instead she wishes that the prophet Elisha could come and cure him. (vs. 3) She represents an alternative way to approach those who might be considered our enemies. Work and pray for their well-being. Remember Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Luke 6:44) The young unnamed girl offers a lesson in extreme humility.

Then the chain of command kicks in. Naaman goes to his king who then sends a letter to the king of Israel (along with some generous gifts) which contains what is, in effect, a command that Elisha heal Naaman. The king of Israel is rightly worried, suggesting that “he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” Apparently the king of Israel is not sure he can deliver what is requested. How would you respond if someone with the power to cause you harm came and said, “I want you to cure so and so.”? The king of Israel rips his clothes. (II Kings 5:4-8)

Elisha, upon hearing of the request, rather than offering the dramatic miracle Naaman wanted, orders Naaman to wash in the muddy Jordan seven times. Naaman, in his pride, refuses, bragging about how much better the rivers of Damascus are. (vss. 9-12)

Naaman’s wise servants instead wonder at how simple the task is. “Wash, and be clean.” (vs.13) We have a difficult time believing in the simplicity of God’s gifts, the extravagance with which God’s grace is offered. We think we should, or can, do some major task in order to deserve it, when all that is required is a little humility. The reading ends with Naaman following Elisha’s instruction and receiving healing.

If we went on in the story, we would find that Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, is jealous of the easy treatment Naaman has received. He collects a fee for the healing and, in the end, is himself afflicted with the leprosy that was removed from Naaman. (II Kings 5:19-27) It is a theme in more than one biblical story. God’s grace is offered to the “enemy,” while the jealous Israelite whose vision is narrow and parochial is eaten up by his “hatred.” Confronting our enemy on the battlefield can be costly; probably far more destructive is the enemy of hatred-or hatred of enemy-within.

We are to let humility be a guideline for our relationships, with enemies and friends. Our reading from Galatians instructs us in bearing “one another’s burdens,’ not thinking we are “something, avoiding “pride,” etc. (Galatians 6:2-4) The context is those who view circumcision as a source of pride. (vss. 12-13) Paul says such things have nothing to do with our worth. Our worth is a gift flowing from the love shown by Jesus. (vss. 14-16)

None of this means that we are to be passive. Humility puts us to work in serving others. We are not too proud to get our hands dirty. We are not to be aloof thinking ourselves better than those we might serve, too good to reach out to them in kindness. Galatians 6:9-10 tells us to “not grow weary in doing what is right . . . let us work for the good of all.”

In the Gospel lesson, from Luke, chapter ten, Jesus sends forty disciples out to minister. They go humbly with “no purse, no bag, no sandals, relying on the hospitality of strangers as they go from town to town.(vss. 1-7) Barbara Brown Taylor in An Altar in the World notes that the Greek word for hospitality is literally “love for the stranger.” Not just inviting friends to a party, or hosting them for a weekend in our home, but welcoming the “stranger,” which is an extreme act of humility. These verses are a remarkable commentary on listening and being listened too. Every conversation is rooted in humble appreciation of the “other.” We enter into the conversation as representatives of Jesus. (vs. 16) It is only out of such encounter that “peace” emerges. (See vss. 5-6)

When the disciples return, they are more excited about their power to exorcize demons that they are about the relationships they entered into (vss. 17-19), but that’s a topic for another time. Suffice it to say here that Jesus tells them they are rejoicing about the wrong thing. (vs. 20)

The reading from Isaiah calls the people to rejoice over the restoration of Jerusalem, a national healing of sorts. (Isaiah 66:10) The image of nursing at mother’s breast is powerful. (vss. 11-13) The image is less one of triumph than it is of the humble child be held and comforted in the mother’s arms and bounced on her knee. Healing calls forth joyous thanksgiving, but continues to remind one of one’s vulnerability. Appreciating life in its fulness, even in rejoicing, is best done with a humble attitude. It’s not that we deserved this, not that we are part of a specially chosen people (or nation); it is pure gift.

The Psalms call us to the same note of rejoicing in response to healing. (See Psalm 30:2) Joy is seen as clothing given by God. (vs. 11) The focus is not on what we have done, but upon what God has done. “How awesome are your deeds!” (Psalm 66:3) “He is awesome in his deeds among mortals.” (vs. 5) “Bless our God, O peoples, . . . who has kept us among the living . . .” (vss. 8-9)

God has done remarkable things and continues to do such things. Each time we are moved by God’s Spirit, in our quiet (or troubled) inward being, in our relationships, in our active outreach and hospitality beyond the boundaries of our “in” group, we are humbled, have occasion to rejoice,
and peace finds fertile ground for growth.

And what do we do with all this on a Sunday when our nation sometimes celebrates its birth in a mood of triumphant patriotism? On such a day, some of us need to hear again the story of Naaman and other strangers who are welcomed by men and women of God and find healing. God’s word is a word of welcome to the world, welcome in which we are called to participate. The job of welcoming is not yet finished!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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