God understands us and calls us as we are, while continuing to hold onto God’s promises.
Vicar Mollie Hamre
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Lect. 28 C
Texts: 2 Kings 5:1-15c, Luke 17:11-19
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is a lot more than just healing from leprosy in the readings today.
We are reading about people from two vastly different places in society who find healing and restoration in their lives. These 10 individuals and commander, are experiencing the shame and rejection that comes from the disease of leprosy, but the internal and external impacts appear in drastically different ways.
Naaman is the commander of the king’s army and is important. Or rather it appears in the text that Naaman finds it important that you know he’s important. So as he goes to seek out help from Elisha, Naaman brings his importance with him–horses and chariots as ways to prove to the world that he has power, that he is in control of his life. But when Elisha sends a messenger instead of appearing himself, Naaman becomes irritated. Curing leprosy is not enough, because Naaman wants a big show, not a simple dip in the water.
And on the opposite side of society, we have the 10 lepers that Jesus encounters. These people are not located in a place of power like Naaman. Instead, they are between Samaria and Galilee in a village, an unnamed place on the outskirts, ignored and pushed away. In the Gospel, we hear them cry out to Jesus, God with us. And Jesus says to them “Go, show yourselves.” This is not a quiet appearance, but a kind of showing that demands attention as they run home to their lives.
These two readings hold strange tension with each other.
Naaman is asked to contemplate the idea of God working quietly within him while the 10 lepers are asked to show themselves to society. Both passages hold people that are enduring the toll of a devastating disease, yet it leaves us wondering what healing through the Triune God truly looks like. How does God reach out to us?
The readings side by side show us that there are times that we cry out to God and times we are seeking control–sometimes both simultaneously. Yet, our God continues to work within people, within us, holding on to God’s promises. Up lifting the lowly, bringing the mighty down from their thrones.
After taking the word of a young woman who serves his wife, Naaman begins to seek out healing. He initially does so on his own terms complaining about traveling to Israel, the river that he has to step in, and even down to the process of the healing itself.
We hear Naaman constantly asking “Elisha, can this healing just happen my way?”
Yet, his ears open when it is his servant, of all people, state the ridiculousness of it all. Naaman. Just jump in the water.
As a stubborn person myself, I understand this. I have days where I would rather overly complicate the simplest of tasks to know that I had it done my way. When all that is needed is simply to jump in the water. Release the control that is deeply craved. Trust God in being present. Despite being in a place of privilege and trying to ignore guidance in healing, Naaman is not left behind by God, but welcomed into new life in the waters.
Naaman’s journey is not the only way God reaches us with healing. There are the lepers too.
When the 10 lepers cry out in the Gospel, they are waiting and listening. Sitting with pain–calling out for directions, answers, guidance. This forms in different ways for us too, in broken relationships, questions about illnesses, seeking out direction in major life decisions, with hope that something will make sense.
Which means when the lepers hear Jesus’s call back, they are up and moving. Moving home towards healing, focused on the goal.
As we know, one turns back, but remember that all were healed. The one leper that comes back is not meant as a place for the reader to shame the others that do not come back. They were following what Jesus told them to do.
The one that comes back is a moment for Luke to remind us that God is working within all. Not only who we assume, not only those that appear in our first reading, but through all and bringing healing to all. This man who comes back has already been made whole through the grace of God. He has already been healed and does not need to do anything to change this. This moment of praise calls us back, telling us that God comes for all in the fullness of who they are and continues to hold that promise.
And amidst that promise, we once again hear Mary’s words from the beginning of Luke.
Promises of uplifting the oppressed and bringing down rulers from their thrones. This kind of bringing down does not involve Naaman or the 10 from the Gospel being condemned, or rejected. Diseases and illnesses are not punishments or lessons from God. What I am pointing at is that Naaman’s healing brings him from his place of power to listen to those around him and to give up the control he desires to hold. While God lifts up the lepers so that they may be seen and restored to their communities once again.
Healing, restoration, and walking with people as they are. That is what these passages are about.
God reaches out and welcomes. Reaches out to us crying and listens, welcoming us to the water and welcoming us into healing. The Greek tells us in the Gospel that when Jesus saw the 10 suffering from leprosy, he did not just see with his eyes, but he saw with understanding. Understanding for Naaman’s internal distress appearing as outward want for control. Understanding for the 10 lepers wanting to go back to their homes. And understanding for you, in the challenges and questions that are faced each day.
God sees you, people of God–in your stubbornness, in your cries, in your questions reaching out with healing, love, mercy and grace. All things that are already inside of you, a part of you, and how God works within you.
In the name of the Father, and of the ☩ Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.