The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23, 9 October 2016

Track One:
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11

Track 2
II Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Psalm 111

II Timothy 2:8-15
Saint Luke 17:11-1

Background: “Leprosy”
What we have known in our time as Leprosy is more than likely not what is referred to in the Bible. The Hebrew vocable, tzaraath, was used to describe a variety of skin conditions rather than to indicate a particular disease.  The word has a root meaning of “being smitten” which makes us mindful that disease in general was seen to stem from sins that had been committed by either the individual or other family members, the disease serving as a punishment. The Greek translation is lepra, from which we get our word “leprosy”. The Greek vocable refers only to a discoloration of the skin, and not of any degenerative condition. In our reading of the effects of tzaraath, we assume that the disease was a contagious one. It is more likely that the distance that the sufferers were subjected to was more a concern for ritual purity than infection. To see the variety of the word, you may want to refer to Moses’ situation in Exodus 4:6-7, where his hand is stricken, and then returns to health. The word (or situation) functions differently in the reading from II Kings, than the reading from the Gospel.  In II Kings, the situation centers more around the healing of the condition, while the Gospel keeps us in mind of the social separation that resulted.

Track One:

Track One:

First Reading: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

In this reading, Jeremiah addresses those already in exile in Babylon. To gain insight into the political and theological situation, you may wish to review the material in chapters 27 and 28. The Jeremiah we see here this morning is Jeremiah the pastor, seeing to the needs of those in exile (since the year 598 BCE). There are two main themes to his work: a) that those in exile, must live in exile – making the best of what God has given them, and b) that there is still hope for return. What complicates this communication is the fact that the community has been riven into two distinct communities: those living in Babylon, and those who remained in Jerusalem. What is the hope for each of these communities. Jeremiah sees the future in those who have been removed to Babylon, and his communts about building, living, planting, and eating underscore his vision that the exile is God-given and not a bad thing. Thus he bids the exiles to pray for the city of exile and to seek its welfare.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. Can you live with adversity? How?
  2. How does Jeremiah encourage the exiles?
  3. Why does he ask them to pray for the welfare of Babylon? 
Psalm 66:1-11 Jubilate Deo

     Be joyful in God, all you lands; *
sing the glory of his Name;
sing the glory of his praise.
2      Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds! *
because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.
3      All the earth bows down before you, *
sings to you, sings out your Name."
4      Come now and see the works of God, *
how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.
5      He turned the sea into dry land,
so that they went through the water on foot, *
and there we rejoiced in him.
6      In his might he rules for ever;
his eyes keep watch over the nations; *
let no rebel rise up against him.
7      Bless our God, you peoples; *
make the voice of his praise to be heard;
8      Who holds our souls in life, *
and will not allow our feet to slip.
9      For you, O God, have proved us; *
you have tried us just as silver is tried.
10    You brought us into the snare; *
you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
11    You let enemies ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water; *
but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.

We begin this psalm with a rehearsal not only of the miracle at the Red Sea, and the deliverance of the people from Egypt, but also a witness of the mastery that God has over the waters. God is seen as not only the provider of release and freedom, but also as a provider of all good things. The author’s goal, it seems, is to convince again the people of God’s power and might, in spite of the troubles of the time.  We get a hint of that purpose in the final verse of the portion appointed for this morning: “You let enemies ride over our heads.” There is a connection here of the situation that Jeremiah outlines in the first reading, and the psalmist’s realistic look at Israel in the midst of its troubles. What is hoped for is a sense of refinement – “you have tried us as silver is tried,” and “we went through fire and water.” The final hope and condition is one of refreshment.

Breaking open Psalm 66:
  1. What marvelous deeds has God done for you?
  2. Where do you see God’s power in the world?
  3. What does the “refreshment” in the final verse consist of?


Track Two:

First Reading: II Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

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."

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.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel."

The purpose of this reading this morning is not, I think, to introduce new thematic or theological considerations, but to connect to the “leper healing” that will be relayed in the Gospel. Never-the-less, there is a universalism that is important for us to consider. In the midst of war and trouble there is still a hope for the people to see the God of Abraham, and not just the people of Israel, but the peoples of other lands as well. This is the second time that we have encountered this pericope. We last read it in Proper 9, where it is linked to Jesus’ sending out of the seventy. There too is the sense of mission beyond the usual, and ministry to everyone. This morning, however, gives us background about several things, the attitudes surrounding what the Bible calls “leprosy” (see the Background material above), the role of prophets as healers, and the life and faith that results when one is healed.

Breaking open II Kings:
  1. What does this story tell you about God’s intentions for all people?
  2. Describe the courage of the young girl.
  3. Describe the courage of Namaan.

Psalm 111 Confitebor tibi

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2      Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
3      His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4      He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5      He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6      He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7      The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
8      They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
9      He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.

In this short acrostic psalm we meet an individual who gives both praise and thanksgiving in very public places – amongst the righteous, and to the public in general. There is a rehearsal of what is praiseworthy about the God of Israel, and we are regaled not only with deeds, but attitudes as well, “(God) makes (God’s) marvelous works to be remembered, the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. The final verse is a wonderful credo that links wisdom (a mindset sought by all cultures and peoples) with the fear of the Lord. If God has treated God’s people well, then the same can be expected of who “have a good understanding.”

Breaking open Psalm 11:
  1. What does God intend to do in this psalm?
  2. What works has God done for you?
  3. How did you give thanks?

Second Reading: II Timothy 2:8-15

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David-- that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful--
for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Paul wants Timothy, and the people that he will pastor to understand how to live through hardships. It is an endeavor that bears some resemblance to Jeremiah’s purpose in the Track One first reading. There is an interesting comparison with the imprisioned Paul and the free and vibrant word of God – “the Word of God is not chained.” Paul underscores his understanding of this Good News by quoting an early Christian hymn, “if we have died with him…” In it we gain an understanding of both movement and reciprocity, “died…we will also live”, and “if we deny…he will also deny.” God’s faithfulness, however, endures our lack of faith, and in a strong statement describes the deep connection that God has with God’s own, “for he cannot deny himself.”

Breaking Open II Timothy:
  1. What does Paul mean about the “unchained word”?
  2. How does God react to our attitudes of faith or non-faith?
  3. How does God not deny you?

The Gospel: St. Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

The placement of this healing story is very important, for we cannot tell whether or not it is in Galilee or in Samaria. The point is that it doesn’t matter for it emphasizes the universal nature of God’s healing through Jesus Christ. You may wish to review an earlier healing story that involves a leper (5:12-16). This story may embellish the original healing, for now the number is not one but ten (a classic magnification) and it takes place among gentiles. Luke’s purpose here may be to underscore Jesus as successor to Elijah (see the first reading) and as messiah. Luke 7:22 makes it clear. John the Baptist along with others are still wondering, and Jesus provides the proof in his answer to John’s disciples:

And he said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

The “leprosy” that his healed here is not only some kind of disease, but the sense of ritual impurity (disease and being a gentile) that Jesus wishes to address and to dispel. Even among the nine there is evidence of faith, for it is only when they begin their journey to the priests that they realize they have been healed. Jesus and Luke are realistic in their expectations about messianic ministry, however. Not all will realize what has happened to them, and not all will be thankful for the gift. It is this realistic attitude that Jesus comments on when he sends out the seventy, preparing them for rejection as well as success.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why does Luke tell this story?
  2. What does this story tell you about Christian inclusion?
  3. Who are the lepers in your life?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller


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