The Adventurous Lectionary – October 9, 2016 – The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:1-19
With its focus on two healing stories, today’s readings could be described by the phrase “the healing you need is right in front of you.” God’s healing presence abounds. In a world that focuses on complex solutions in which often the side-effects outweigh the benefits, God’s pathway is simple. What we need to be healthy and whole is right here. We are, as Gandhi says, the change we have been looking for. Although the causes – and cures – of disease and injustice may be multi-factorial or many-faceted, the first steps to transformation may be simple in nature.
Naaman is a great leader, but alas he suffers from a painful and disfiguring skin disease. While leprosy is not life-threatening, it threatens his quality of life and seems to be incurable, like many of the chronic illnesses people face today. When Naaman comes to the prophet, Elisha chooses not to bow down to his power or wealth. He does something more important; he sends a messenger to the warrior outlining a simple cure. Naaman is initially enraged by the prophet’s lack of respect and the utter simplicity of the antidote. A man of his stature needs a fancy cure; perhaps a visit to an opulent spa or a complex nostrum, and all he gets is the counsel to dip seven times in the muddy old Jordan! He is ready to walk away, until a servant speaks up, “If he had asked you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? Why don’t you try something simple – wash and be clean?” And so he does, and he is cured immediately.
Sometimes the solution – or at least the first steps to a solution – is right in front of us. God wants us to have abundant life, but our own lifestyles and values get in the way. Healthy family life requires presence more than yearly trips to the Bahamas or Disney World. A good marriage involves faithful support and communication more than fancy dinners, getaways, and expensive jewelry. Good health involves prayer, exercise, diet, rest, relationships, and healthy environments not joining an expensive health club. A healthy body politic involves generosity, respect, listening, looking for common ground, and willingness to compromise for the sake of the whole. These and other responses aren’t esoteric. The healing we need – the health we need – is right here, built into the nature of reality. We don’t need to concern ourselves with supernatural healings when God’s world is full of miracles, when nature itself, God’s nature, is the greatest healer.
The other nine are simply doing what Jesus told them to do, and should not be faulted. They will no doubt present an offering to God as part of the religious ritual signifying a cure. This Samaritan leper has no one to go to except Jesus. He praises God, and recognizes his utter dependence on God for his well-being.
Your faith has made you well, Jesus proclaims. Even here, Jesus is not suggesting something supernaturally violating cause and effect relationships, nor is he implicitly blaming those who don’t get well, as certain popular Christians and new age healers suggest. Jesus is not an adherent of the prosperity gospel. We can say the following: yes, the man – like Naaman – is cured as a result of the interplay of divine grace and human response; faith and obedience to God’s vision shapes our health and can be a factor in a cure. We can also say that wholeness is more than just a physical cure; it emerges from an intimate relationship to our healing God. Accordingly, even those who aren’t cured can be healed; they can experience peace in the midst of pain and presence in the midst of incurable illness.
God wants us to be well. God works in our cells as well as our souls to bring wholeness to us and our world. (For more on Jesus’ healing ministry, see Bruce Epperly, “Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel”; “God’s Touch:Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus”; and “Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice.”)