Epiphany 6

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February 16, 2003

Prayer of the Day
Lord God, mercifully receive the prayers of your people. Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do and give us grace and power to do them; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

2 Kings 5:1-14
(1) 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. {2} 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. {3} She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." {4} So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. {5} 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. {6} 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." {7} 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." {8} 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." {9} So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. {10} 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." {11} 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! {12} 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. {13} 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'?" {14} 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.

     Elisha’s healing of Naaman’s leprosy is offered as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ healing of the leper in the Gospel.
1. the king of Aram: Aram is the name of a nation in southern Syria which flourished from the eleventh to the eighth centuries. Its capital was Damascus. The king of Israel was Jehoram (849-842) and the king of Aram was probably Ben Hadad. Israel and Syria were at war, off and on, for over a hundred years.
leprosy: "Naaman’s leprosy (ôÀr5at) was obviously not of that kind which debarred him from society, so that it was an embarrassing skin disease, but not as serious as leprosy proper, for which ancient ritual law prescribed isolation (Lev. 13:45f.). The disease of Naaman must have been what Herodotus ([Loeb Classical Library, ed. by A.D. Godley, vol.] I, 138) calls leukÎ as distinct from leprÎ." [1]
2. a young girl captive from the land of Israel: The girl was a slave captured in one of the many battles between Israel and Aram. She and Naaman’s servants (verse 13) are instrumental in bringing about the healing.
5. ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments: A talent weighed approximately 75 pounds; a shekel, about .4 ounce. The value of the sets of garments is obscure. At present values the silver and gold would be worth about $700,000.
7: The king of Israel believes that the king of Aram is seeking to provoke a quarrel by setting an impossible task for him. Relations between the two nations were no good for an extended period of time between the death of Solomon and the exile of Israel.
10. Elisha sent a message to him: This is healing at a distance. And Naaman is not impressed (verse 11). He was looking for an invocation and a therapeutic gesture.
13. his servants...said to him, "Father....": Both Gesenius-Kautzch-Cowley [1a], and Brockelmann [1b] comment that 'abi, "father," is, in fact, a particle that indicates a conditional sentence of unreality; that is, "If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?" The LXX translates 'abi as pater, father, and so does the NRSV. Commentators comment on the inappropriateness of such a familiar address by servants to the master.
    Elisha’s motive for becoming involved in the business is not to save the king’s reputation, but to demonstrate that "there is a prophet in Israel" and Naaman returned to Elisha and confessed that Yahweh was the only God. It seems strange to say the least that this resolution of the story in verse 15 is omitted.

Psalm 30
{1} I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. {2} O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. {3} O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. {4} Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. {5} For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. {6} As for me, I said in my prosperity, "I shall never be moved." {7} By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed. {8} To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: {9} "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? {10} Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!" {11} You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, {12} so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

     Psalm 30 is a song of thanksgiving of an individual. The title calls it "A Song at the dedication of the temple, which indicates that it was attached to the festival of Hanukkah.
1: The singer declares his/her intention to praise Yahweh for his intervention in the singers misfortunes; his/her enemies have not rejoiced over him/her.
3. soul: The word is שׁפנ, nephesh, the breath that sustains life. Here, by synecdoche, it encompasses life itself.
Sheol: The place of the dead. A "soulless, shadowy existence which is far, far removed from God." [2]
the Pit: "רוב [bor] is a figurative expression that allows the concepts of grave and לואשׁ [sheol] to coincide." [3]
4: The exhortation to the "saints" to sing praises to Yahweh refers to the setting of the Psalm in the Temple where other worshippers witnessed the performance of the thanksgiving song (perhaps with more explicit details of both the singer’s situation and Yahweh’s help) and then joined in praising God for his help.
5: Time is relative to the activity which fills it. "Once Yahweh has granted help, the time in which God was angry, in which he ‘hid his face’ (v. 7) and let the psalmist suffer in the ‘realm of death,’ shrinks down to a brief moment (עגר), whereas the extension of grace fills and determines the duration of a lifetime (cf. Isa. 54:7-8)…. Distress and weeping turn out to be events of yesterday, of the past. With the new morning, the point in time of Yahweh’s intervention (cf. Ps. 46:5; 90:14; 143:8), jubilation breaks out as the spirit that determines the meaning of life henceforth. A person’s relation to time is in the OT definitely determined by his nearness to God (Ps. 84:10)." [4]
6-8.I shall never be moved: The singer describes his/her confidence, because of Yahweh’s favor, and his/her dismay when Yahweh "hid his face," withdrew that favor. Complacency belongs to the fool (Proverbs 1:32). Though the singer had apparently done nothing wrong, Yahweh still withheld his support.
9. What profit…tell of your faithfulness?: "This unique motive for intervening presented to God in the plea reveals the psalmist’s understanding of his life. The purpose of his existence is the praise of God. The only reason advanced for Yahweh’s rescue…is that this praise should not be extinguished." [5]
12: The praise which would have been lost is now expressed, and the singer vows ongoing thanksgiving.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27
{24} Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. {25} Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. {26} So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; {27} but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

 24. all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it: Participation does not guarantee success. This is the theme of the reading. Perseverance in the Christian life is necessary. The thought here is similar to that in the Psalm. Yahweh had favored the singer, and (s)he thought (s)he was invulnerable. But then Yahweh "hid his face," and the singer’s world collapsed.
27. I punish my body…so that…I myself should not be disqualified Everything must be subordinated to the unique claim of Christ. "Paul clearly envisages the possibility that, notwithstanding his work as a preacher, he may himself fall from grace and be rejected…. His conversion, his baptism, his call to apostleship, his service in the Gospel, do not guarantee his eternal salvation." [6]
    This concern is addressed at length in 10:1-13, which is not used in the lectionary. It is God’s faithfulness which will assure us of our salvation. It is on this rather than our own accomplishments that we rely.

Mark 1:40-45
{40} A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." {41} Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" {42} Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. {43} After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, {44} saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." {45} But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

40-41: if you choose: Jesus says, "I do choose." Jesus heals with a gesture, a touch and a command. Other occasions on which Jesus touched or was touched by people who were unclean are referred to in 3:10; 5:27f; 5:30f; 6:56; 7:33; 8:22. By touching the leper Jesus became unclean also.
40: The healing of lepers is a sign of the kingdom for Jesus (Matthew 10:8).
43: Another command to silence. The cleansed leper disobeys with the result that Jesus stayed in the countryside.
44. See that you say nothing to anyone: "The command to tell no one is another example (cf. i.34) of the injunctions to secrecy which are characteristic of Mk." [7] This is one of the many passages in Mark that led Wilhelm Wrede to propose the concept of the "Messianic Secret," according to which "Jesus…keeps His Messiahship a secret so long as He is upon earth, and while He reveals Himself to His disciples (as distinct from the people), He remains unintelligible even to them (ix. 32). Only with His Resurrection does the true perception of what He is begin." [8] Verse 45 shows the consequence of the leper not remaining silent.
show yourself to the priest: Jesus sent the ten lepers to the priests as well. Although Jesus is critical of certain aspects of the religious establishment he recognizes its legitimate functions and encourages those with whom he deals to submit to the torah of Moses. offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded: The provisions concerning the cleansing of lepers is in Leviticus 14.
them: Jesus’ detractors.
    By healing the leper Jesus showed himself to have power to undo those conditions that created separations among people. Leprosy (probably not Hansen’s disease, but an undefined skin disease), and other conditions (Leviticus 21:16-24) meant exclusion from the community. Jesus did not challenge the fact that some conditions require separation. Instead, in specific cases, he overcame those conditions. In this case, he terminated the condition of leprosy and instructed the man to have that fact acknowledged formally. With that the man was restored to his proper place in the community of which he was a part.

    In this set of lections only the Gospel remains from the previous version of the lectionary, which means that the other lessons have been chosen specifically with the Gospel in mind. When the petition from the Prayer of the Day (Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do and give us grace and power to do them) is added into the mix, it becomes clear that what we are to see, understand, and do is to seek God’s purpose for our lives and his will for how we live.
    It was not where Naaman bathed that accomplished his healing, but that he put his trust in God’s prophet. The Psalmist knew both sides of God’s actions. Though he said, "I will never be moved," and recognized that his prosperity was God’s doing, God withdrew his hand. When he turned to God in faith, Yahweh turned his mourning into dancing. Paul recognized the need to subordinate everything to God. As Naaman was healed through Elijah, so the leper in the Gospel was healed by Jesus. But Jesus is greater than Elijah, and he is our Lord. It is in him that we put our trust; it is his will we seek to do. We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to know and do his will.
    In Luke 4:27, Jesus notes that “There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." The usual interpretation of this verse and the two before it is that since the Israelites had rejected Yahweh Elijah, Elisha and Jesus turned their healing powers to Gentiles. However, in the story of the healing of Naaman, Elisha is known to be a healer by an Israelite child which suggests that he was active in healing Israelites. That God does not heal all illness, may be followed by a corollary, that the absence of healing does not necessarily mean that God is not present, or compassionate, but rather that God heals for his purposes, not just to make us comfortable.

Hymns [9]
With One Voice (e.g. 762v), Hymnal Supplement 1991 (e.g. 725s) and LBW (e.g. 32).
E=Entrance; D=Hymn of the Day; I=First Lesson, II=Psalm; II=Second Lesson; G=Gospel

400 E God, Whose
435 D O God, Whose
360 D O Christ, the
461 II Fight the Good
308 II God the Father,
312, 431, 83, 393,

Prayers of the People [9a]
Almighty God, over and over again we are reminded in the texts of Epiphany that you are a God of light who wants to shine the light of the Gospel on all the world. You want all to know what you have done in Christ. You ask us, with joy like that of the cleansed leper, to run and tell the story. By your Spirit give us grace to do that very thing. God of surprising light, C. shine through us. 
Bless, O healing God, all who serve in healing professions; all doctors and nurses, chaplains and diaconal servants, administrators and other healthcare workers. Enable them to see their service as a ministry empowered and called into being by you. Give them vision and energy, compassion and patience, grace and a sense of humour. God of surprising light, C. shine through us.


Presider or deacon
Let us pray for all peoples in the church and the world who need mercy, justice, and peace.
Deacon or other leader
For the church of God, and for all who witness to the glory of God. For this world and for the sharing of health and healing.
For those stigmatized as unclean, and for those who touch and heal them.
For all who practice the medical arts, and for physicians of the spirit.
For all who are sick and in need of prayer, and for the dying and the dead.
God, who sends us to wash in the river of healing, hear the prayers we offer you this day and enable us to proclaim your good news and spread the word of your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[1] John Gray, I & II Kings: A Commentary. Second, Fully Revised, Edition. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1970, p. 504.
[1aGesenius' Hebrew Grammar as edited and enlarged by the late E. Kautzsch. 2nd English Edition, revised by A.E. Cowley. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910, §159cc, pp. 497f.
[1b] Carl Brockelmann, Hebäische Syntax. Neukirchen Kreis Moers: Verlad der Buchhandlung des Erziehungsvereins, 1956, §165d.
[2] Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1988, p. 162.
[3] Ibid., p. 355.
[4] Loc. cit.
[5] Ibid., p. 356.
[6] C.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1968, p. 218.
[7] Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark. New York: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1955, p. 189.
[8] Ibid., p. 122.
[9] http://www.worship.ca/text/wpch0203.txt
[9a] http://www.worship.ca/text/pray_b1.txt
[10] http://members.cox.net/oplater/prayer.htm