Thursday, February 16, 2012

12 February 2012: Year B, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany.

2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, and Mark 1:40-45. Preaching: liturgical_libertine
As we approach lent we’re told of the healing power of Christ and what we must do to receive healing and restoration. In the 2 Kings passage we’re given a story about Elisha heals a valiant warrior of leprosy and in our gospel reading we get another story of a leper being relieved of his disease. Healing is a topic of controversy in the contemporary Church. Does God heal through prophets like in our OT reading? Does God heal physically? Emotionally? Who does God heal? Why are some who are in need not receive healing? With these questions in mind, let’s enter into a conversation about healing with much fear and trembling. In our Gospel reading a leper approaches Christ and asks:
“If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
To such a question, our text cites that Christ answers indignantly, but affirmatively. Christ heals the man and gives the qualification to tell no one but a priest and then make the appropriate sacrifices. In our Old Testament reading, we get a short narrative about the warrior Naaman who is seeking reprieve from his leprosy. Naaman goes to the King of Israel and asks the King for healing. The King, like Christ, answers indignantly, but unlike Christ answers negatively. When the King cannot help Naaman, he seeks out Elisha. Naaman goes to the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha will not go out to see Naaman, so he sends a servant to instruct Naaman to go dip himself in the Jordan Seven times. Naaman’s response to the servant was incredulity. Surely, there is more to healing than doing what someone’s servant says! After some talking in to from Naaman’s servants, Naaman went and did what Elisha’s servant instructed and was healed.
Now, what does this all mean for us and for what we know about healing and being healed? Leprosy in biblical texts is a catchall for a variety of awful skin diseases. Obviously, skin diseases aren’t pleasant and it doesn’t take much faith or motivation of any kind to go looking for relief. In Naaman’s story, Naaman approaches the obvious outlet for healing, the King of Israel. The King’s answer to Naaman’s search for healing is interesting in that, the one who has been put in place by God to rule over and govern his people can’t even do something as simple as heal a leper. To be healed Naaman must follow the instruction of Elisha’s. Naaman is a bit scandalized by the whole occurrence; Elisha doesn’t even come out to see Naaman. Naaman must submit to Elisha and in turn God in order to be healed.
Consider the connections Naaman shares with the story from the Gospel. A leper comes to Christ and asks to be healed. This Gospel story is particularly interesting because this other nameless leper goes to the same people Naaman does, the King of Israel as well as the one who can actually heal him. As flippantly as Elisha gives Naaman the instructions for healing, Christ heals the leper. Neither Christ nor Elisha does anything great or ceremonious to heal their lepers, they both just require to be asked.
What does all this tell us about healing? Apparently, all that is required for healing is to just ask the right person. However, just asking the right person requires something radical. Like Naaman we have to approach healing with a humble spirit. Pomp and status must be put to the wayside. Christ comes to us though the weak not necessarily through Kings or people of lofty social standing. Healing requires the faith to come to Christ and ask “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This is a particularly subversive act because if Christ were transposed into our society we would pay him no mind. The juxtaposition of Christ in our culture underscores the paradox of Jesus. Christ is of incredibly low social standing and even lets himself be killed, but also embodies the very ground of being from which we all are pushed into existence.
Perhaps the healing and restoration Christ brings us if physical, but perhaps it’s larger than that. The healing we receive may not always be the healing we ask for, but we will get the healing we need if we submit to Christ.