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6th Sunday after Epiphany
February 12, 2006
2 Kings 5:1-14
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Discussing the Texts:
The 2 Kings 5:1-14 text came up on Pentecost 19, October 10, 2004, when I wrote about it with a different selection of texts. I have repeated the discussion of it here, but it takes on a different spin with different texts. For Pentecost 19, the theme was permeable boundaries. With today’s set of texts, the theme has more to do with the power of healing and where it comes from.
The Mark text certainly makes this point. Early in the gospel story, Jesus is portrayed as, among others things, a healer. It comes in a series of statements and stories of Jesus’ healing power. Jesus has been preaching in the synagogues, casting out unclean spirits, impressing everyone with his authority. People wonder, is this a new teaching? He becomes famous in the area, as he moves about preaching and healing. The connection between the Mark and 2 Kings texts is more than the healing of a leper. It is more about where the healing power comes from. In 2 Kings, the healing power of God is mediated through the prophet Elisha. In Mark, Jesus seems to be more directly related to that power, embodying it, using it effectively. Rumors were in the air that Jesus was a prophet. Yet, it becomes obvious that Jesus is much more than a prophet; he embodies the power of God in a way that the prophets didn’t. Further, Jesus’ power also seems to be tied closely to his preaching and teaching. What is it about his preaching and healing that marks him as the Messiah?
The 1 Corinthian text comes at the end of a longer discussion, rather “defense,” of Paul’s right to be an apostle. Paul sees himself as a spokesman, even a conduit, for the power of the gospel. He sees, furthermore, that being a conduit for the power of the gospel requires discipline. That’s what it means to be a disciple, to enter into the discipline of a way of life taught by Jesus, preached by Paul and others, a teaching that points to a different way of living in this world, an alternative to the way the world is set up. Churches are communities of discipline which embody the teaching and the power exemplified in Jesus’ teachings, life, death and resurrection.
Ultimately, where does healing come from? It comes from God. The Naaman story demonstrates this most effectively and dramatically.
Naaman is obviously not a Jew; he is a Gentile and one from the enemy camp, a commander of the Army, no less, in the court of the king of Syria, and well regarded by the king. The list of disqualifications (to separatists) piles up. It’s difficult to imagine a person lesser qualified to experience God’s attention. “But” (and this is a great narrative turn)--the word “but” spins the story into a different direction. But Naaman has leprosy, a liability even in the eyes of his supporters. The story continues with a rumor (from a slave) that there is a prophet in Israel that can cure even this problem. The Syrian King sends a letter, along with may gifts, to the King of Israel vouching for the commander and asking that the King of Israel cure him. But the King of Israel is shocked to be asked to cure someone of a disease and thinks it’s a set up, a pretext for a fight. He rips his clothes in exasperation: he can’ t heal. “Who does this King think I am?” Elisha, the prophet, gets wind of this situation and sends word for Naaman to come to him. Elisha, without seeing him, instructs Naaman to wash in the Jordan river seven times, with an air of vagueness that gets under the famous Naaman’s skin. Naaman was expecting more personal and dramatic treatment, some direct display of divine power on his behalf. After all, he’s a commander of a superpower army and knows how power works. Elisha simply does not meet with Naaman’s expectations of either a prophet or of God. The Commander’s servants implore him to take the prophet’s remedy. He does and is healed and makes the parting claim: ”I know there is no God in all the earth but in Israel” v15.
Process Theology and the Texts:
It’s fair to say that Naaman learned a lesson about the nature of God’s healing power--and the reader, too, learns the same lesson and more. The reader (presumably Jewish and now Christian, too) learns that God’s healing power recognizes no boundaries. It extends even to such a person as Naaman. The reader also learns something about the nature of God’s power--Naaman expected courtly, regal power to intervene on his behalf. But his healing came by way of a different kind of power, a power he disregarded. But what kind of power is this? That’s the question he carried with him back to Syria, and we, the reader, carry away with us.
And what power does Jesus embody? What is the nature of God’s power? It’s not coercive, but persuasive, a prime process category. It’s not controlling or manipulative or forced, but is freely given out of a divine desire toward well being for all. It would be easy to extrapolate these narrative dynamics to our own current political context. What would healing power look like in our world? Where does it come from? Who embodies it?
Preaching the Texts:
It would be very effective to allow both the 2 Kings and Mark texts to play off one another. By simply telling the story of Naaman, it is clear where healing power comes from. How is that same power even more exemplified in Jesus as the Messiah? What does it mean to be the Messiah? What kind of power does the real Messiah embody. Reference could be made to David as the best of Kings, yet he embodies the wrong kind of power. People were looking for another David as Messiah. How are Naaman and David similar. How are David and Jesus different?
A sermon could also speak to communities of faith as places of healing, as mediators of God’s power. What values would such a community require to embrace and embody? What teachings of Jesus would give such a community its authority? Who are the “lepers” in our world? How could the church be a healing place for them? What does it mean to be healed? What is the presenting illness? What is the underlying disease? We can move all the way to the idea of sin, and how Paul defines it in Romans as self idolatry: life out of balance. If our illnesses and diseases are seen in this light, how are they healed?
Children and the Texts:
If healing is the theme of the worship service, the preacher could bring a bag of a variety of healing aids: bandages, salves, medication bottles, etc. Talk about a recent wound and ask the children about when they got hurt recently, or were sick. Ask them how they got better. Talk about their bodies having healing properties in them. Ask where healing comes from. God has created us in such a way that there are healing powers in us. What about when we get hurt by other people when they say or do bad things to us? How can the things in the bag help us then? Can a doctor heal a broken heart? Talk about God being the ultimate healer. Talk about how Jesus healed people. Talk about prayer and patience when dealing with the hurts of life.
May the creative, transforming power of God be with you in your preaching. Amen.
Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.