The Adventurous Lectionary – October 13, 2019 – The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19
Healing was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus healed persons, body, mind, spirit, and relationships. His healings transformed cells, souls, and social location. With its focus on two healing stories, this Sundays readings could be described by the phrase “the healing you need is right in front of you.”
God’s healing presence abounds. God’s healing may be intense but it is grounded in the relational nature of life and reflects a deeper naturalism rather than law-breaking supernaturalism. In a world that focuses on complex solutions in which often the side-effects outweigh the benefits, these scriptures suggest that God’s pathway to healing 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. They involve seeking a healing companion and listening to their counsel.
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 knows no sovereign but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 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 for his position 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 and easy to obtain. God wants us to have abundant life, but our own lifestyles and values get in the way. Healthy family life requires parental-spousal 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 an ongoing commitment to 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 often right here, built into the nature of reality and our own being. 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. Although physical healing is not ensured, those who practice the presence of God by seeing their bodies as God’s Temple and deepening their connection with God experience grace and discover the strength of God’s presence in their physical vulnerability. [For more on Jesus’ healings, see Bruce Epperly, “Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel,” (Energion)“God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness and the Healing Miracles of]Jesus,” (Wesminster/John Knox_ and “Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice” (Pilgrim).]
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over fifty books, including “A Center in the Cyclone: 21st Century Selfcare,” “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” and “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims.”