Sermon – 10-13-19 – Proper 23 – Cycle C
Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Sermon Title: “Naaman, Elisha, and the Ten Lepers”
A servant girl knows the solution! In this Old Testament or Hebrew scripture, we find this delightful story of healing. Naaman has the skin problem. Elisha is God’s prophet. The King of Israel gets mixed into the story and goes berserk. The servant girl is the most important character in the story.
First, you may have noticed an awkward break in the Hebrew lesson that George read. We are going to tell the missing part or it does not make sense.
Syria is in our present-day news. Syria is part of our story today. Naaman is a commander in the Syrian army although the translation we heard today – the New Revised Standard Version – uses the name Aram for the country instead of Syria. The Contemporary English Version uses Syria. Whether we call it Aram or Syria, the leaders of that country did not get along well with the leaders of Israel.
In fact, God helps Naaman to lead the Aramean army in victory over the Israelite army. So the King of Aram respects Naaman highly. Winning over Israel and being respected by the King of Aram does not prevent Naaman from being tormented by a skin problem, referred to as leprosy.
Here is where our main character comes into the picture. This servant girl had been captured in Israel as part of the spoils of war. She became a servant to Naaman’s wife. One day, the girl could not refrain from declaring to Naaman’s wife that she knows a person who can heal Naaman. She is referring to Elisha, prophet of God, who is presently in the Samaria section of Israel.
Wife tells Naaman. Naaman asks King of Aram for permission to go to Israel in the hope of being healed. The King says, “Go. I will give you a letter to the King of Israel.”
Naaman packs silver, gold, clothes and the letter. The letter says, “I am sending my servant Naaman to you. Would you cure him of his leprosy?” When Naaman arrives in Israel, he finds the king which is probably King Joash. Naaman gives the letter to one of the king’s servants and waits. Well! The king thinks he is supposed to heal this army commander from Aram who has just defeated the King of Israel’s army. The king tears his clothing in fear and says, “That Aramean king believes I can cure this man of leprosy! Does he think I am God with power over life and death? He must be trying to pick a fight with me.”
Somehow, Elisha hears about this predicament – I think God told him – and sends word to the King of Israel that he, Elisha, can heal Naaman. “Just send him to me,” says Elisha. So Naaman left with his horses and chariots and went to Elisha’s house. Instead of Elisha coming from his house to actually touch Naaman or wave his hand over Naaman, Elisha sends the instruction that Naaman shall go wash in the Jordan River seven times. If Naaman does that, his flesh will be restored and he will be clean.
Instead of Naaman saying “thank you,” Naaman has a fit of his own. Naaman is expecting more drama. He thinks he is owed more respect from Elisha, this man of God.
It also happens that the Jordan River is not a clean river. Naaman knows other rivers in his own country that are cleaner and nicer. So Naaman is angry. Why should he lower himself in a muddy river! But his servants suggest to him that he would have done something much harder or more expensive to be cleansed. Why won’t he just dip himself seven times in this dirty river and see what happens? So Naaman becomes meek. He gives in and immerses himself into the dirty river until he is covered . His flesh is restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he is clean.
Now does Naaman give any kind of thanks to anybody when he sees the good result? You probably caught the end of the Hebrew lesson that George read. Naaman finds Elisha and stands before Elisha saying, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
Now, moving forward into the time of Jesus, we have this story of the ten lepers who happen to be where Jesus is walking. They are careful not to come too close to Jesus because this skin problem called leprosy is very contagious. You probably know that, in those days, lepers needed to live at a distance from the town, like near the garbage dump.
When they see Jesus, they call to Jesus and ask to be healed. Instead of waving his hand over them from afar, Jesus just says, “Go to the priests and be declared clean.” They follow his directions. They go. That is what Jesus says, “Go to the priests.” It is the priests, not doctors, who declare the person healed of leprosy. It is like permission to re-enter society, to move home with family, to shop, to work. They follow the directions of Jesus.
It is strange then that the one who does not continue directly to the priests, who does not strictly follow the directions of Jesus, gets the praise and the blessing of Jesus. We read that this one leper, who happens to be a Samaritan and not a pure Jew, gives thanks to Jesus, prostrating himself in front of Jesus, not doing this quietly but in a loud voice. Jesus blesses this one person and says to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Where else do we know that a Samaritan receives praise to this very day for doing the good and right thing? Yes, we have the account of the Good Samaritan going out of his way, spending time and money to help someone who is in trouble. The Samaritans were a mixture of races. They did not have pure Jewish blood. They were ostracized by pure-blood Jews. But Jesus brings them into favorable light with his stories.
Can we possibly stop here and not get the whole picture? The idea and practice of ostracizing people because of skin color, because of religion, because of place of birth, because of economic levels, because of language or accent or inability to speak well because of a deficiency in development, because of physical differences, and mental differences are not new with us but we could make a big difference by changing our own attitudes and actions. We could! We could bring these people into a favorable light in society. After all, Jesus will probably be blessing these “cast-offs” more than he will bless ourselves unless we shape up and welcome these blessed ones into the light while we recede into the shadows. “Blessed are those who are meek.” We don’t read “Blessed are those who are proud and arrogant.” It is a choice. Meekness and inclusion or arrogance and exclusion. Lord, help us! Amen