The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23, 13 October 2019

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

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

II Timothy 2:8-15
Saint Luke 17:11-19

Background: Leprosy

Leviticus 14:54-57, gives a definition of the condition and social consequence of what is called in the Bible as “Leprosy”. It seems clear, now, that this is not always related to what we know today as Hansen’s disease. The biblical condition was any scarring, scabbing, or blemished skin, which was seen as a ritual impurity. It could also be applied to conditions of cloth, leather, or homes. For human beings, it was any skin disease that resulted in scales, infections, rashes, or scabs. Leviticus 13:44-46 gives further definition to the situation and connects these conditions with impurity. Early Christians also saw this connection and has been seen throughout history.

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.

It would be helpful, as you study this text to read the previous chapter, Jeremiah 28, in its entirety. There you can understand the conflict between Jeremiah and the prophet Hananiah, and how the pronouncements of today’s reading follow on the differing pronouncements of Jeremiah and Hananiah in chapter 28. Jeremiah is attempting here to distinguish between true and false prophesy. He is preaching against the optimism of Hananiah and speaking to the realities of the exile to which Judah has been condemned. It will not be two years of exile, as Hananiah promised, but rather a much longer period. Thus, the reason for the admonition to build houses and have families in Babylon. The chosen people are bidden to multiply and to continue. The reality of their prayer must be that they pray for the city to which they have been exiled, as well as for the city that has been left behind, Jerusalem. 

Breaking open Jeremiah:
1.        Are you content in the midst of your troubles?
2.        What are the graces that you have been given in this situation?
3.        How will you live into it?

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.
     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.
     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.

This is a thanksgiving psalm, thus the incipit – “Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands.” This is not just national thanks, but the thanks of all creation – all the lands. There is a remembrance of God’s past acts for the benefit of Israel. In verse five there is a remembrance of the Reed Sea and the passing dry shod to safety on the other side. It is a God who casts a watchful eye over Israel, but who also looks at what the nations are doing so that “no rebel rise up against him.” But all is not sweetness and light. There is an accounting for past unfaithfulness and looking away from God. The psalmist looks at the people as silver, refined and tested silver. Such testing reminds us of the difficulties in the first reading. Verse eleven speaks to the reality of God’s testing, and of God’s salvation.

Breaking open Psalm 66:
1.        What is praiseworthy in your life?
2.        How do you give thanks for it?
3.        How do you praise God?



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."

In the prophets as well as in the so-called historical writings we can see a drift toward a more universal image of the world and the God who rules it. Here the author sees YHWH as giving a victory to Namaan, the Aramean general. A social reality is the context in which this healing story takes place – a young captive will invite the foreign general into the saving graces of YHWH. It is not only healing that she desires for him when she invites him to “be with the prophet.” The implication here is that he will be in subservience to the prophet of YHWH.

The text calls it “leprosy”, but it is probably not the classic leprosy, but rather a skin disease that caused the loss of pigmentation. Nonetheless it is a disturbing situation for Namaan, and he looks to his king for advice. In this story we see the intricacies of inter-regnal diplomacy. The message form Aram causes some distress in the court of Israel, which now leads us to the prophet Elisha, and his simple demands of Namaan to “wash and be clean.” (See the comments on Baptism and Healing in the Background above,) The simple thing is difficult for Namaan – as it is often for us.

Breaking open II Kings:
1.    What need do you have for healing in your life?
2.    Who will help you with that?
3.    Whom do you need to heal?

Psalm 111 Confitebor tibi

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
     Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
     His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
     He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
     He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
     He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
     The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
     They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
     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.

This is a short acrostic, a psalm of praise. The verses telescope out in their praise from the individual, “with my whole heart”, to the social elites, “the assembly of the upright,” and finally to all the people, “in the congregation.” Now the poet will enumerate the deeds and attributes of God so that we who “desire them” might have delight in studying them.  The gift of food and land are mentioned first in connection with our being mindful of the covenant. What follows are social requisites, “faithfulness and justice,” which are equated with the commandments that God has given. Finally, there is the remembrance of Wisdom, which is seen in the “fear of the Lord.” We are enjoined to “act accordingly” and thus to have not only a good understand (Wisdom) but also praise of God.

Breaking open Psalm 111:
1.        What all has God done for you?
2.        Have you done the same for others?
3.        What is left ungiven or unfinished?

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.

This is an odd reading in that it comprises two and a half pericopes (2:8-10 (Paul chained), 2:11-13 (The Heart of the letter), and 2:14-15 [16-19] (Against fruitless disputes). Any of them are rich, such as when Paul contrasts his own condition in prison with the unbound Word of God, and later the struggle of how to properly proclaim the Gospel, using the difficult medium of words. It is, however, the second pericope (2:11-13) that captures our imagination. The first two verses remind me of the Lucien Deiss hymn, “Keep in Mind That Jesus Christ”[1] (Canticle 13 in the Lutheran Book of Worship. It follows the contrasting that Paul does in the first pericope – I am chained, the Gospel is unchained; died – lived, endured – reigned. In Paul’s world, and perhaps, even in our own, the possibility of martyrdom was real. We too may be made to witness in the face of adversity. We too may have to “die with him.” The true promise, however, is that we will also live with him.

Breaking open II Timothy:
  1. How do you live with the Lord?
  2. How do you die with the Lord?
  3. What enables you to endure?

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."

Saint Francis, whom we honored just a few days ago, kissed the leper. These lepers keep their distance, but Jesus approaches them, heals them, and sends them on their way. The point of the pericope is not only this act of healing and compassion, but also a lesson on thanksgiving. Only one comes back to honor the Lord who had given the gift of healing. The others, on their way, did not return to unclean state because they did not give thanks – God is gracious. The one, “a foreigner”, returns to give thanks. Is this the point of the pericope – that the foreigner understood? Or is it the understanding that Jesus gives to the healed person, “your faith has made you well.” Grace and compassion, thanksgiving, and faith – these are the points of this story.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        For what have you forgotten to give thanks?
2.        Is it possible to go back and do so?
3.        What is the gift of your faith?

General Idea:              Recognizing God’s grace

Example 1:                  The exiles are given the grace to live and prosper in a foreign land (Track One – First Reading)

                                      Naaman is given the grace to accept his healing (Track Two – First Reading)

Example 2:                  Grace even in the midst of adversity (Second Reading)

Example 3:                  Grace given and given back (Gospel)

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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[1]            There is an advertisement that precedes the video. My apologies for that.


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