Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
The border between Samaria and Galilee – the line that separated one from the other was more than mere geography, it was social, political and, most important of all – it was theological. The Samaritans were a despised bunch – something that started with Jacob’s twelve sons (aka the twelve tribes of Genesis 37) and goes totally downhill when, returning from captivity in Assyria, the pureblood Jews find their land (and Jerusalem) occupied by the Samaritans. The Samaritans are not pure bloods – they’ve gone and married people from other races and religions – and then they try their hardest to put a spanner in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. By the time Jesus arrives on the scene the enmity was well and truly established: They despised each other, having nothing to do with the opposite side of the divide, which is why when Jesus gets stuck in and heals, asks for water, and engages with them, there is more to it than perhaps we realise!
Here’s Jesus on His way to Jerusalem and the end game that is the trial and crucifixion – He is walking what I consider to be a very Anglican via media (middle road); something that makes it possible to embrace and include people from a wide range of positions. There’s the zealots and the religious, legalistic types, there’s those who have no right to be in polite company – the poor, the prostitutes, tax-collectors, the quislings, and the very dregs of humanity – and there’s the righteous (though not necessarily right) and the wealthy, the healthy and comfortably off.
As He makes His was He is making real the words that will later come from the Apostle Paul in that nothing we’ve seen, nothing we’ve been, nothing we can do – can separate us from God’s love. In this example it’s ten men who are excluded from worshipping God or being around the rest of society – and God’s love is made obvious in them, to them, and to those who witnessed the healing! This passage turns a thin line on a map, a difference between people groups, a mile wide! And then makes it vanish in an eye-blink as Love becomes manifest!
And yet it is the Samaritan – the one furthest off who comes back and says ‘Thank You’ – This is the physical embodiment of the, “He who has been forgiven much – loves much,” of the parable that Jesus told in Luke 7. Here is someone who was far off from and yet he has received God’s blessing and responded by coming back to give thanks – he was on his way to show the priests but before he got to the religious place he returned to the place of relationship.
Isn’t this what God is calling us today?
With those you will have nothing to do with?
With those who, because of your attitudes and beliefs, are excluded or set apart?
The Challenge continues with our OT passage as a high-ranking bloke by the name of Naaman (meaning ‘beautiful’) makes his appearance. Now what’s this all about?
Although many take it to be about healing a man with Leprosy (bit of a familiar theme today), like the Gospel passage it is about much, much more as this high-ranking soldier makes his appearance.
It is about borders - separation and God crossing lines.
Is it about obedience – something a soldier should know lots about.
Is it about looking at the most unlikely remedy, in this case a scabby river, and resorting to its use?
Well actually it’s another example of social, political, military and theological considerations coming together. The Arameans are the powerful bunch in this story and yet it is in search of something more powerful than that which they have or are that sees the journey being made to Israel; and that more powerful thing is, of course, their God. I like the wobbly, fear-filled, king and the resolute man of God (Elisha) in this story and the contrast between Naaman and Elisha – one rich and powerful and the other, well he’s Elisha isn’t he (‘nuff said)?
Naaman is ready to pay whatever it costs and to undertake whatever treatment is necessary and yet when the bloke he’s come to see doesn’t even come out to bow and scrape and meet him, put on a bit of a show and make it all look like it’s worth the money, Naaman is more than a little unchuffed. This goes further downhill when he learns what the remedy is – for he has to go dip himself in the Jordan, a scabby river so unlike the majestic rivers (Abana and Pharpar) of home.
Put yourself in Naaman’s shoes. Is this ‘holy’ man mocking him in his moment of direst need? What would you do in his sandals? Fortunately the bloke’s servants persuade him to give it a go, “After a;;,” they tell him, “If he’d have asked for something costly or difficult you would have jumped at doing it, wouldn’t you?”
Inst that the same for us? Aren’t we keen to engage with the big, the costly, the outwardly showy stuff? But what about the simple or the apparently absurd, how do we deal with the things that look like foolishness to the world? Have a think about your responses to these thngs and you’ve nailed the Naaman message – and the result is beautiful indeed!
So what is the apparently simple, the foolish thing, that God is calling you to do? What simple step is too simple for you to take to make yourself healed and acceptable?
2 Kings 5.1-18
Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.” The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
“If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord.
Our final reading, from 2 Timothy, challenges us to think like a soldier – a soldier of Jesus Christ – and to be concerned with the things that matter in that setting and not to get distracted or diverted with other things. Wise words for the many people I see who forget that our first task is to preach the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus and to ‘remember Him’. Too many of us get distracted in our causes and campaigns and forget our call is to ‘preach Christ in and out of season’.
If you’re going to win an Olympic medal than you need to be single-minded and commit yourself solely to the calling of being an athlete; the same goes for being a farmer as this means early mornings and late nights – commitment to the calling of husbandry – and from it we benefit from the fruits of our toil and receive the approval of the one who places the victor’s crown on the winner's head. Every soldier wants the approval and recognition of their commanding officer - and for us that means Jesus - Him who died for us; Him who we should not disown or deny or cause His body (that is the Church) to become separated, weaken or divided.
This is a great passage for it reminds us how we should live, who we should proclaim as Lord and to work hard to run the race so that we might be tested and found to be victorious through Jesus, the Christ, and the new life He has won for us.
2 Timothy 2:3-15
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
God, our light and our salvation: illuminate our lives, that we may see your goodness in the land of the living, and looking on your beauty may be changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Post Communion Prayer
God our Father, whose Son, the light unfailing, has come from heaven to deliver the world from the darkness of ignorance: let these holy mysteries open the eyes of our understanding that we may know the way of life, and walk in it without stumbling; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.