2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30
I Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45
Many years ago when I lived in New York, a woman frequently stood outside of Bloomingdale’s on Lexington Avenue. Over and over again, she would shout in a monotone, “Help me I have cerebral palsy!” This was so disturbing on so many levels. She was an embarrassing reminder of dis-ease and dis-order. Passers-by probably had no idea what they could do to help. Other people, medical people, people perhaps with cerebral palsy themselves, people who had made strides to understand this disease, and bring it under control, and live their own lives with wholeness, were similarly dismayed – perhaps by the woman’s unabashed vulnerability, perhaps by her seeming unwillingness to seek the help available to her that would make a difference.
Leprosy, which today we call Hansen’s Disease, is treatable. We know what Jesus did not know: that this is a disease so treatable that people who contract it can be cured by antibiotics. But like the people in the ancient world, where our two stories of healing come from, we know that dis-ease is a sign of a disordered creation. Something in God’s good creation has gone awry, and cries out to be restored.
Also, today, like in the ancient world, we know that the healing of disease is something powerful, and when we don’t understand what is going on, we may feel things are moving too far and too fast, that things are getting out of control.
Naaman was a really powerful man. He was the general of a conquering army. The Bible says that even God thought well enough of Naaman and his skill as a general that God gave victory to this enemy of Israel. Aram, the homeland of Naaman, is today called Syria.
Naaman, despite his success and prowess, has a flaw: he has leprosy. This is apparently not a secret; even the conquered slaves knew this, and one of them, an unnamed girl, dares to speak up and offer a solution. Naaman could be cured, she says, by a prophet in conquered Israel.
Like the unnamed captive girl, who offers her solution through the back door, Elisha, the man of God – not the man of “the king” – similarly breaks through the official denials. “Let him in,” he says. “Let him learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”
Receiving healing must be a difficult thing. It is hard even for Naaman, who must want so much to be cleansed from this terrible disease, to drop his defenses and take Elisha’s advice to plunge into the healing waters of the Jordan. God’s mercy, and’s God’s abundance, know no bounds. Even the enemies of God’s people receive the overflowing abundance of God’s blessings.
There is a power unleashed in these healings that cannot be controlled – certainly not by humans, and we suspect, not even by Jesus. After healing the man from his leprosy, he becomes stern with him. Jesus does not want public acclaim.
Listen to these verses from the 4th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, from another episode early in Jesus’ ministry. He had just taught a lesson from the Torah in his Nazareth synagogue. All were astounded at his wisdom – “at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Acknowledging their praise, Jesus then said,
‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. …There were also many lepers* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Like it or not, God worms God’s way into our midst. Captive girls speak words of wisdom. Oddball prophets say, sure, let in your enemy; give him a chance. When we ask God to heal us, we have no idea what to expect. We might think things will be the way they used to be, and all of a sudden we are in completely new territory. Someone is healed, someone else is threatened, and all of a sudden the whole world changes before our very eyes.
We here at St. David’s are embarked on a new thing. Our Celebration of New Ministry was an occasion to pull out all the stops – to name blessings we didn’t even know that we had – to give thanks in the midst of the ordinary wilderness of our own lives, and, in the memorable words of Bishop Adams, to take all of this into the streets. A power has been unleashed here, and God only knows what wonderful, risky and exciting things we have in store.