Insights on the Lectionary
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B
February 12, 2012
May all who feel invisible be seen by you, O Christ.
May all who are discarded believe you treasure them.
May the frightened feel safe, the bruised soothed, the forgotten
remembered in you and by you,
Christ of the cross in me and by me, O Christ of my prayers. Amen[i]
There is a real physicality in today’s lections.[ii] Elisha and Jesus heal leapers and Paul compares Christ’s followers to athletes who must take charge of their bodies (and their lives) to obtain the prize they seek. It is good to be reminded that we are not merely spirits, but have bodies that can be strong or weak. It is good to remember that our Lord is incarnate, familiar with all matters of the flesh.
Probably there was no group of people in bible times that were more discarded and/or invisible than the lepers. Leprosy was highly contagious and greatly disfigured its sufferers. Isolation was the only way known to contain it. Lepers were banished to the outskirts of cities and required to announce their presence by shouting “unclean”! Rigid health laws were developed to decide what constituted being healed or being cleansed from leprosy.
We tend to think of leprosy as ancient; yet, leprosy (Hansen’s disease) has only been controlled and contained through medication in relatively recent times. I can still remember leper colonies existing when I was young. It always seemed incredible to me at the time, that this horrible biblical disease still existed. Too often we view scripture as either from another time or otherworldly or both. It is true that culture changes, social mores change, technological and medical advances happen; yet human nature and the nature of relationships are timeless. Most modern and ancient minds would agree that there is a link between physical and mental health and spiritual well being.[iii] We often have preconceived ideas about what constitutes healing or how wellbeing should be achieved, but today’s scriptures demonstrate the need to “think outside the box” and be willing to do what God asks even if it doesn’t fit our understanding.
In the OT reading, Naaman was a valuable warrior and statesman for the king of Aram, and he was afflicted with leprosy. He heard from a slave girl that there was a prophet in Israel (Elisha) who could heal him but he has two strikes against him, according to most Israelites: he is a foreigner and he is a leper. Naaman, the proud man of substance, seeks help through a slave girl. Certainly this does not fit the accepted norm. Naaman expected to be treated as an emissary of his king and that Elisha would heal him through some form of direct intervention. He was quite insulted when he was met by a servant and told to go bathe in the Jordan seven times (remember, seven is the ritual number of completion or wholeness). After all, there were rivers in his own country. Who did this Elisha think he was?
Again a servant intervened and reminded Naaman that he had been prepared to give expensive gifts and do anything, no matter how difficult, to be healed. Why not do something simple – – like bathing? He complied and was healed. Now he gave credit to the God of Israel, praising God and pledging to worship the one God. He finally realized that he was not humiliated, but humbled – – humbled before God alone. It doesn’t matter to God if one is foreign or a leper, a servant or a king. God wishes to heal the whole world and has no favorites.[iv]
It might at first be difficult to see the relationship between the passage in 1 Corinthians and the other two readings. As stated before, there is an established connection between body, mind and spirit. Also, Elisha, Paul and Jesus all defy the boundaries set by society, whether they are political or national or religious.[v] Paul wants us to realize that the race we run is life itself; the prize we seek will never wither or fade because it is a life in Christ. Athletes practice discipline and self-control to prepare them for the race. We worship a God who became flesh and dwelt among us. What forms of discipline, self-control would allow us to have a theologically sound way of life ? [vi] The readings over the past few weeks have encouraged us to practice the faith and to keep company with those who do likewise. Certainly, worship, prayer, stewardship, reading scripture and fellowship are all good ways to keep our “eyes on the prize”.
I also think self-care in matters of rest, diet and exercise allow us to be fit to serve and to enjoy our abundant life in Christ. For many of us physical discipline is much, much harder than spiritual discipline. I know they are both difficult for me, but God will fill in the gaps and help us. We don’t have to be Olympic athletes; just rest when we are weary, eat when we are hungry, remember our limits, get help when we are sick and take time to walk, swim, or run if we are able. Christianity is more than a series of ideas; “Christianity above all else is a life to be lived”.[vii]
In the Gospel, Jesus is confronted by a leper and is moved by his plight. Some translations say he is moved by pity, others say he is moved by anger.[viii] Either way there is a sense of justice in Jesus’ understanding and action. By touching a leper Jesus both interrupted and defied the existing social structure.[ix] He entered into the life of the leper and took hold. He healed him and the society which shunned him, through a simple act, an intentional touch. Jesus cares more about the healing of the world then he does about his own reputation or safety. He did not come to “fit in”; he came to spread and live the Good News and the world has never been the same since!
In today’s passage the leper was not only physically healed and cleansed but restored to the community and to society.[x] The healing that Christ brings is complete. Once he was whole the leper just couldn’t help himself – – he had to spread the Good News! This is another recurring pattern in recent lectionary lessons: once one has experienced the healing, redemptive presence of the Incarnate Christ, one is compelled to proclaim it. This is the true nature of evangelism. The best witnesses do not expose theory or condemnation; they share the joy that God has brought them. They live the Good News; you can see it in their eyes, hear it in there voices and feel it in their touch.
Take hold of us dear Lord.
Cleanse us and make us whole.
Give us hope, strength and courage.
We thank you for the privilege of proclaiming the
Good News and living our lives in Christ Amen