The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9-C), 7 July 2018


July 7, 2019

Reading 1Reading 2Reading 3Reading 4Reading 1 AltReading 2 Alt
2 Kings 5:1–14Psalm 30Galatians 6:(1-6), 7–16Luke 10:1-11, 16–20Isaiah 66:10–14Psalm 66:1–9

by Robert McDonald

Discussion of the Texts:
We find this week, as has been the case since Trinity Sunday, that there are several options for readings at Sunday worship/Mass this week for the readings from the Hebrew Bible: 2 Kings 5 and Psalm 30, or Isaiah 66 Psalm 66. In the first case, the overarching theme of the readings is that of healing; in the case of the optional reading, the theme is that of rejoicing (Psalm 30 does have this theme, too).

Looking to the first reading(s), we are met with the story of Naaman from 1 Kings 5. We hear that he is a high ranking officer, a commander, for the king of Aram; however, he suffers from leprosy (5:1). A young Israelite girl, who serves Naaman’s wife, tells them of a prophet in Samaria who can heal Naaman of his leprosy (5:2–3). With the permission of his king (5:5), he proceeds to Israel with a letter explaining the reason for his visit (5:6). After a brief misunderstanding with the king of Israel — due to the presumed domination of Israel by Aram (Steven L. McKenzie, “2 Kings,” The Access Bible, 512)[1] — which is resolved by the Prophet Elisha (5:7–8), Naaman proceeds to the entrance of Elisha’s house (5:9). Elisha then directs Naaman to wash himself in the Jordan seven times in order to be cured of his leprosy (5:10), a direction at which Naaman is infuriated: “‘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?’” (5:11–12) He is soon rebuffed by his servants, who point out that what Elisha asks is a simple task, despite how Naaman would have doubtless accepted a more difficult task (5:13). He then goes to the Jordan, washing as directed, after which he was cured (5:14).[2]

In reply to this first reading, we have Psalm 30. According to J. Clinton McCann Jr., the Psalm may be been “[a] song of thanksgiving” first by someone healed from an ailment (McCann, “Psalm 30,” The Access Bible, 758). Reading the Psalm certainly suggests this: “I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up . . . O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me” (30:1, 2). And again, the author of the Psalm offers this to the reader about rejoicing: “Sing praises to the LORD, O you [God’s] faithful ones, and give thanks to [God’s] holy name. For [God’s] anger is but for a moment; [God’s] favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (30:4–5).  Not only has the Psalmist offered up their thanksgiving to God, but they are inviting the hearers to offer their own thanksgiving.

This brings us to Isaiah, if it is chosen for the first reading. Ronald E. Clements writes that Isaiah, a collection of prophecies collected from the eight century BCE, has three major themes: 1) Israel is blessed with a unified destiny despite their trials; 2) Jerusalem is historically and spiritually significant for Israel and the world; and 3) the Davidic line is especially significant (Clements, “Isaiah: Introduction,” The Access Bible, 927). He also points out how chapter 66, along with chapters 56 to 65, are concerned with “[t]he coming of the light” (The Access Bible, 927). Turning to the text itself, the author directs the reader (or hearer) to offer up their rejoicing “with Jerusalem,” to “be glad for her” (Isaiah 66:10). Now, the rejoicing of Isaiah is more eschatological than it is a response to what has happened, as was the case in Psalm 30: “For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to her [Jerusalem] like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream” (Is. 66:12). This prosperity, the healing, will not come from Jerusalem alone: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66:13). God is, for the author of Isaiah, the one who comforts the people of Israel. Upon seeing the prosperity of Jerusalem, and upon receiving comfort from the grace of God, the people of Israel will rejoice and grow (66:14). As Clements points out, the promises made by God requires the trust and faithfulness on the part of the people (Clements, “Isaiah,” The Access Bible, 1021).

Psalm 66 continues the theme of rejoicing: “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of [God’s] name; give to [God] glorious praise” (Ps. 66:1–2). McCann points out that this Psalm, especially the early verses, is a “communal song of thanksgiving” eventually appropriated by an individual (in verse 13; McCann, “Psalm 66,” The Access Bible, 789). This rejoicing is not limited to Israel, as “[a]ll the earth worships [God]” (Ps. 66:4); thus, the cosmic sovereignty of God (McCann, “Psalm 66,” The Access Bible, 789). Israel, however, rejoices in a particular way, remembering what God did for them as they fled from Egypt (Ps. 66:6; see Exodus 14:15–31). It is to all peoples of the earth that Israel turns, calling for praise of God to be heard all over the earth (66:7–8).

This brings us to the readings from the Christian New Testament. We begin with the Letter to the Galatians. According to Carl R. Holladay, it is difficult to date the writing of this letter, though it seems to have been written around the same time as Romans (Holladay, “Galatians: Introduction,” The Access Bible, 1948). He notes that Paul writes to chastise the churches of Galatia, as well as to reaffirm the teachings he gave to them (1948). In particular, we find Paul in chapter 6 of the letter asserting to the Galatians a number of moral imperatives: do not be tempted into transgression against those who have transgressed, treating them gently (Gal. 6:1); help others to bear their burdens (6:2), remembering that all must bear their own burdens (6:5); we find the famous line that “you reap whatever you sow” (6:7); and that we are to “work for the good of all” (6:10). Paul then concludes by pointing out how the present teachers in Galatia, in appearing to adhere to the Law, do not in fact have the spiritual welfare of the Galatians in mind (6:11–13). He concludes by offering peace and stating that adherence to the Law or non-adherence to the Law are as nothing to “a new creation” through Christ (6:16, 15).

Finally, we end with Luke 10. This reading recounts the sending out of the seventy disciples to precede Jesus in all of the towns he planned to visit (Lk. 10:1). They are directed by Jesus on how they are to enter these towns, taking nothing and greeting no one until entering a home where they are welcome (10:4–6); however, they are told to rebuke those towns where they are unwelcome, declaring: “‘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’” (10:11); however, they are to accept the hospitality of those who accept them, eating what they are provided and curing the sick while declaring how the reign of God is near (10:7–9). The reading concludes with the disciples returning to Jesus excited that even demons listened to them (10:17); however, Jesus reminds them not to be prideful of the authority given to them, instead rejoicing over how their names are “written in heaven” (10:20).

Process Theology and the Texts:
There are a few themes from the readings for this week which suggest an orientation toward process thought. One such theme is found in Psalm 66, specifically verses 1 and 4: “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth . . . ‘All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.’” I would suggest that, while the text may originally have had a more anthropocentric meaning when originally written, we can extend it to include non-human creatures and the inanimate world. Taking a Teilhardian approach, all things are suffused with Spirit, so all things give glory to God. From a Whiteheadian perspective, identity as an occasion of experience and the capacity to “feel” are not limited to humans — all are at any point in time objects, subjects, and superjects of experience.

Another point with leanings toward process can be found in Isaiah 66, namely verse 13: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” The God spoken of by the author of Isaiah is one who cares for the world. Passages from the other readings for the day suggest this, too: e.g., Psalm 30:2 (“O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me”); Psalm 66:8–9 (“Bless our God, O peoples . . . who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip”); Galations 6:7 (“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow”)and Luke 10:20 (“. . . rejoice that your names are written in heaven”). These last two examples point us to a passage from Whitehead: “What is done in the world is transformed into a reality in heaven, and the reality in heaven passes back into the world. By reason of this reciprocal relation, the love in the world passes into the love in heaven, and floods back again into the world. In this sense, God is the great companion the fellow sufferer who understands” (Whitehead, Process and Reality, 532; emphasis added).

For a final point regarding process thought in the readings for today, I would recommend the Letter to the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ . . . So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up . . . whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all” (Gal. 6:2, 9). I offer these selections from the Letter because they are reminiscent of a passage from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin which many have doubtless heard: “The day will come when . . . we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, [we] will have discovered fire” (Teilhard, “The Evolution of Chastity,” in Toward the Future, 86–7). Love for ourselves, for others, and for God is the key to building the Reign of God.

Preaching the Texts:
Several readings for the present week remind me, as a doctoral student at the Claremont School of Theology, how I have discovered my interests shifting over the last year: while I retain the intention to continue my work within the realm of process theology, I have also discerned a growing interest in liberation theology. I would dare say that there is a growing need to better incorporate the work of liberation theologians with that of process thought, especially the Teilhardian side toward which I lean.

The moral exhortations of Galatians 6 are of particular interest in this regard. Consider verse 2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This may not seem too difficult when we think of standing beside our friends, families, and community members; but, how easy is it to connect with others who may not be members of our community, among our circles of friends, or in our families? In our present society (in the United States) we often hear that others should deal with their struggles, or even that their struggles are their own fault. This may seem to be supported by verse 5 (“[A]ll must carry their own loads”), but this must certainly be read in light of verse 2: that we will all experience burdens throughout our lives does not preclude assisting others in bearing their burdens — it should inspire us to seek understanding, sympathy, and empathy leading us to act in solidarity with others. What is more, insofar as there are individuals and communities whose burdens are rooted in historical and systemic oppression, those of us who are not oppressed by these systems — and who participate within them, wittingly or not — must do what work we can to break down such systems in solidarity with those who are oppressed.

In order to do this, we can look to mujerista theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz and her position regarding solidarity as a strategy for liberation: “As a theory solidarity opposes the theory of oppression . . . ” (Isasi-Díaz, Mujerista Theology, 92). This solidarity is primarily among those who are oppressed, but it needs to include oppressors because “solidarity is an understanding and worldview, a theory, about the commonality of interests that links humanity” (93). According to the Boff brothers, Leonardo and Clodovis, there is a particular way that oppressors can enter into solidarity with those whom they oppress (again, directly or indirectly, wittingly or not): “Personal contact is necessary if one is to acquire new theological sensitivity” (Boff and Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology, 23). This can be done in three ways: restricted, sporadic, or permanent living and working alongside oppressed and marginalized communities (23). Such work is not opposed to but is precisely in line with process theology: both process and liberation are concerned with mutuality and relationality. To act in any way which does not support, let alone foster, such mutuality and relationality is contrary to process, liberation, and the Gospel. To borrow from Gerhard Ludwig Müller, all three emphasize “our participation in the praxis of God in love . . .” (Müller, “Liberating Experience,” On the Side of the Poor, 19).

Aside from this, there are a few other points of departure for preaching the text of the present week. Consider 2 Kings 5:13—“‘[I]f 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”?’” This can lead us to ask the following question: why do we sweat the small stuff when we are readily prepared to work toward the bigger, more important things in life? This begs another question—in concert with the points regarding liberation: are the things we are prepared to work toward, those “bigger” things, really what is most important? Think of how Naaman became angry, and how his servants rebuffed him in kind: Naaman would have followed the directions of Elisha were he to have directed him to perform a difficult task, perhaps assuming more difficult tasks are de facto more important. The issue is not a matter of importance — liberation is, without qualification, of utmost importance — but of what we believe to be important. How often do we believe money, privilege, power, or some other superficial element of life is more important than the well-being of others, especially those deemed to be “Other”? Harkening back to one of my first commentaries with Process and Faith, I would recommend reflecting on the words of Peter Chrysologus: “If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery” (Chrysologus, “Sermon for Ash Wednesday;” in the “Office of Readings for the Lenten Season,” Christian Prayer 1976).

Finally — though there are certainly other elements of the readings which could be touched upon when preaching from either a Teilhardian or Whiteheadian process perspective — I would consider Psalm 66, viz. verses 1 and 4: “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth . . . ‘All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.’” Tangentially, verse 1 reminds me of a story from my parents regarding a particular Catholic priest they knew: he would often remind people, regarding singing at Mass, that we are called to “make a joyful noise,” but not necessarily a “beautiful” noise. “If God gave you a bad voice,” he would say, “sing louder — get even.” (Anyone who wishes to may use that story.) On a more serious note — pun intended — there seems to be an opportunity for an ecological message here, though it is possible that the reference to “all the earth” is intended in a more anthropocentric sense: the whole earth, human and non-human, gives glory to God according to their means and capacities (see Psalm 19, especially verse 2; see also the post-Vatican II Catholic hymn “Canticle of the Sun,” a staple of my childhood, which I have mentioned before—it always brings me to tears). Are we not then to be called to account for silencing the voices of others, the non-human no less than the human — but most certainly for silencing our human brothers and sisters? Cain was a fool — we are all the keepers of our brothers and sisters (see Genesis 4:9–10). How many of us make the same error as Cain?

 

Endnotes
[1]       According to McKenzie, the author of 2 Kings is attempting to offer a theological explanation of the history of Israel: Israel falls before Judah due to its unfaithfulness to God. See McKenzie, “2 Kings: Introduction,” The Access Bible, 504.

[2]       What we do not hear today are the response of Naaman to Elisha upon returning from the Jordan: he declares that the God of Israel is the only God on earth, that he will offer worship only to God, and that he be forgiven for having (i.e. being forced) to enter the temples of the Aramean gods, as well as the condemnation by Elisha of his servant Gehazi for extorting Naaman and lying about it to Elisha—“‘Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants forever.’ So he left his presence leprous, as white as snow” (2 Kings 5:27; see 5:15–27).

 

 

Bibliography

Boff, Leonardo, and Clodovis Boff. Introducing Liberation Theology [Como fazer Teologia da Libertação]. Translated by Paul Burns. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, [1986] 1987.

Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours. Translated by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing Co., [1970, 1973, 1975] 1976.

Gutiérrez, Gustavo, and Gerhard Ludwig Müller. On the Side of the Poor: The Theology of Liberation [An der Seite der Armen: Theologie der Befreiung]. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, [2004] 2015.

Isasi-Díaz, Ada María. Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, [1996] 1999.

O’Day, Gail R., and David Petersen, ed. The Access Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Updated Edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, [1999] 2011.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. Toward the Future [Les directions de l’avenir]. Translated by René Hague. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, [1973] 1975.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. New York, NY: Harper & Row, [1929] 1957.

———. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, Corrected Edition. Edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. New York, NY: The Free Press, [1929, 1957] 1978.

 


Robert McDonald

Raised Roman Catholic, Rob is a second year PhD student with the Center for Process Studies at the Claremont School of Theology. Having studied philosophy, theology, history, and public policy/administration at the undergraduate and graduate levels at both Gannon University (Erie, PA) and Gonzaga University (Spokane, WA), his specific research interests with the Center and CST (to hopefully culminate in a dissertation) are the ethical implications (especially environmental and social) of a comparative analysis/integration of the lives/works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ and Morihei Ueshiba (as well as the Kyoto School of philosophy and the traditions of the Ainu People of Japan), in light of Whiteheadian process thought. Rob is also the current English Coordinator for The Balkan Journal of Philosophy, Editorial Assistant with the Whitehead Research Project, and the 2018/19 Research Assistant for Philip Clayton.

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