The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 9, 7 July 2013
II Kings 5:1-14
St. Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
So familiar, that we may forget to learn more about it. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, but not as old as Jericho. References to its name may be seen in an Egyptian execration (cursing) text ca. 19th century BCE, also in the Amarna Letters ca. 1330 BCE. What does the name mean? There are several possibilities, and due to the vagaries of the tri-consonantal stem in Hebrew and other ancient near eastern languages there can be a variety of meanings. It might be from a Sumerian understanding “YRY” (Foundation, or Cornerstone) and “SLM” (Shalem – a Bronze Age deity). In the Bible the name appears as “Yerushalem” or “Yerushalayim” in the book of Joshua. It may be a combination of “YHWH Yir’eh” (God will see to it) and “SLM”, either the god of dusk, or from the Hebrew word for peace “SLM” (Shalom) and now you see the difficulty. In ancient days the name for the settlement was called in the Bible “Jebus”, or after the conquest by David it was known as “Zion”. The Romans called it “Aelia Capitolina”. More next week…
2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel."
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, `Wash, and be clean'?" So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
Thus we continue the stories of Elisha. For several Sundays, now, the readings have been revealing to us a universalist bent in their texts. Here we will see a prophet of the House of Israel performing miracles for non-Israelites, just as Elijah had done for the Widow of Zarephath. While the translation mentions leprosy as the torment of, the description of the disease indicates that it was not leprosy but some other kind of disfigurement. What follows then is very much like the contest that Elijah stages with the prophets of Ba’al. Here, however, it is a contest between the healing capacity within Aram and Israel. The renewing faithfulness of Israel is put into the mouth of the young girl who testifies to the greatness of Elisha. The reaction of the Israelite king, “Am I God, to deal death and life?” is an indication that Elisha is operating outside of the knowledge of the court – the king seems to have no knowledge of him.
When Naaman does come to visit Elisha, he comes with a full military escort – a bit troubling to both Elisha and the countryside. Then a delicate dance begins, one of propriety and protocol. Elisha does not stand by the norms, and his suggestion “Go wash in the Jordan” is taken by Naaman as an insult. In this story it is the simple people, the young girl, and the servants to Naaman, who have wisdom. Simple things sometimes are the answer to complex issues.
Breaking open II Kings:
- Who are the makers for change in this story?
- Who represent the old ways and tradition?
- What would you thought about Elisha’s request?
Psalm 30 Exaltabo te, Domine
I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime.
Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.
While I felt secure, I said,
"I shall never be disturbed. *
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains."
Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.
I cried to you, O LORD; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
"What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; *
O LORD, be my helper."
You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
This psalm is filled with several images of death: water, Sheol (the place of the dead0, also called “the Pit.” In one striking image in the first verse, the phrase “you lifted me up” has the feeling in the Hebrew of being “drawn up” as when one draws water out of a well. At several points the psalmist honors God for bringing him back from death, and a poetic statement about night (death) and day (life) underscores this salvation – “At evening one beds down weeping, and in the morning, glad song.” (Alter). The verses that follow “I cried to you, O YHWH (Lord)” recall the prior distress of the author. There is even a verse that bargains with God, “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit?” and recalls Abrahams bargaining with God over Sodom. Other comparisons, “wailing” and “dancing”, “sackcloth” and “cloths (that bespeak joy)” add to the poetic nature of his recollection of death and salvation.
Breaking open Psalm 30
- What images come to mind when you think of death? Describe them?
- How often do you think of your own death? What are your feelings?
- What images come to mind when you think of resurrection?
Thus says the Lord:
"Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her--
that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious bosom.
For thus says the LORD:
I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bodies shall flourish like the grass;
and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants,
and his indignation is against his enemies. "
In these passages, Jerusalem is personified as a woman who comforts and nurtures her children (the exiles who have returned to Palestine from their sojourn in Babylon). There is a longing in these passages that is best shown in verse 10, “rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her.” Its structure is like that of a psalm where an initial idea (joy) is contrasted in the next strophe with opposite idea (mourning). Especially interesting is verse 13, where the speaker now speaks for himself, namely God, who uses feminine images to convey the care he has for the people.
Breaking open I Kings:
- What are your thoughts about the town in which you were born and raised?
- Where have you lived that seemed as a mother to you?
- How is God a mother to you?
Psalm 66:1-8 Jubilate Deo
Be joyful in God, all you lands; *
sing the glory of his Name;
sing the glory of his praise.
Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds! *
because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down before you, *
sings to you, sings out your Name."
Come now and see the works of God, *
how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.
He turned the sea into dry land,
so that they went through the water on foot, *
and there we rejoiced in him.
In his might he rules for ever;
his eyes keep watch over the nations; *
let no rebel rise up against him.
Bless our God, you peoples; *
make the voice of his praise to be heard;
Who holds our souls in life, *
and will not allow our feet to slip.
In this psalm we are quickly clued in that this is a psalm of thanksgiving. All of the earth is invited to sing praise to God. In the sixth verse we begin to see the reason why the author bids us to sing God’s praises. “He turned the sea into dry land, so that they went through the water on dry foot” recalls one of two instances. The first is the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1-15, 21), and the second is the miracle at the Jordan that reprises the Red Sea experience (Joshua 3:11-4:24). Such great acts are the cause of the enemies’ fear in verse three. It is a psalm that centers on God, and the foundational acts of Israel as a people.
Breaking open Psalm 66
- Have you ever been in an impossible situation that was turned into joy?
- How did you tell others about your good news?
- What is the good news in this psalm?
[My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.
Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.]
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised-- only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule-- peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Leaving behind the discussion and arguments concerning freedom and the law, Paul turns to issues of practicality within the Christian life: a) dealing with those who have transgressed (Paul argues for “gentleness” and taking up another’s burdens), b) “Sowing good – in the Spirit”, arguing that we should in our works of righteousness do that which is right, working for the good of all, and c) Knowing that in which to take pride. He warns that it is not born of the traditional pride of circumcision, but rather the cross of Christ.
Breaking open Galatians:
- What does Paul mean by recommending “gentleness” in the face of treachery?
- What kind of good have you sown in your life?
- What makes you justly proud?
St. Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'
"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
The larger pericope is made up of five smaller units: a) Instruction for “the Seventy” (verses 1-12), b) The Impenitent (not in our reading, excepting verse 16) (verses 13-16), c) The Seventy return (verses 17-20), d) a Thanksgiving (not in our reading) (verse 21), and e) Blessings (verses 22-24). Our reading focuses in on the mission of the seventy and what the learned in their service. This reading recalls a similar mission of the “Twelve” in the previous chapter (Luke 9:1-5). What is the meaning of the numbers? The twelve are the disciples, of course, their number symbolic of Israel. The number seventy (“seven” denoting perfection, and the multiplication by ten indicating a great number) was a term used to describe “the Nations”. Thus these couples are sent out to all the world.
There are practicalities to be observed: simplicity, focus, observation, and thankfulness. They are sent out as mendicants relying on the care of others and God’s care for them. Rejection, it appears, was not to change the focus of the journey – namely the message that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. They return reporting signs of God’s victory over “the powers”, but are warned that this is not what they should be proud of. Rather it is their status in heaven.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- How was Simon inhospitable?
- How is his inhospitality answered by the woman?
- How might this teaching affect your life?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.