Proper 23, C, 2019
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
In the 10th century BCE, the northern Israelite tribes separated from Judah in order to establish a rival monarchy and settled in the region of Samaria along with Galilee to the north. Two centuries later the Assyrian empire conquered these northern tribes. The empire transported distant Mesopotamian peoples into the region, resulting in centuries of inter-marriage. From a Judean perspective, these developments continued ethnic compromise of the already alienated branches of Jacob’s family tree. The Samaritans developed their own religious traditions; traditions emphasizing devotion to Torah and affiliation with the sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem.
In the 2nd century BCE, much of Galilee converted to Judaism. Subsequently the Galileans recognized the Jerusalem temple as the proper center of worship. This left the middle region of Samaria isolated between two Jerusalem-affiliated populations. In 128 BCE, the rivalry turned especially violent when Judeans destroyed the Samaritan sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim. The hostility between the groups remained strong, and by Jesus’s time, remained strong enough for Galilean pilgrims to Jerusalem, south of Samaria, to opt to bypass Samaria en route to Jerusalem, even though it added considerable time to the journey. (Source: Ira Brent Driggers, Working Preacher)
But Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
In Leviticus, the law says, “The leper who has the disease shall wear torn cloths and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.”
Now, in Jesus’s day leprosy could have been anything from actual Hansen’s disease (what we know as leprosy) to a bad case of eczema or psoriasis. Either way, it placed the sufferer in a no man’s land, a world outside polite society, a world between living and dead, between human and animal, between Samaria and Galilee.
According to the WHO, elimination of leprosy as public health problem (defined as a registered prevalence of less than 1 case per 10 000 population) was achieved globally in 2000. The people society treats as lepers almost never have Hansen’s disease, they don’t mark their appearance, and they don’t yell out warnings. They do often live in a land between.
My brother’s oldest is incredibly bright, and funny, and compassionate. Actually both of them are, but I always admired the way his oldest in particular seemed to march to the beat of an internal, personalized, individualized drum, seemingly never bowing to the external pressures of growing up. It turns out that, not only was he not comfortable in his own skin as I always thought he was, but he went through life feeling like he lived in the wrong skin altogether. He did not really understand what “transgender” meant until he went away to college – and over time came to learn that the term applied to him. His education was his family’s as well as we grappled, among other things, with the very real pain that can be inflicted with the misapplication of a pronoun. I still feel a deep pit in my stomach when I remember he went driving in the rural south with a driver’s license that didn’t match his pronouns and his physical appearance.
Friday marked the 31st National Coming Out Day, a celebration of LGBTQ+ folks that have made the decision to open up about their sexual orientation. 31 years of celebrating that act, and still LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth and are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide. (the Trevor Project)
Thursday was World Mental Health Day. One in five people have mental health issues. Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability across the United States. Less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need with
An average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years.
The people who live between today don’t have Hansen’s. They have depression or anxiety, or suffer the devastating effects of addiction, or struggle with chronic disease. They are escaping crushing poverty or oppression or war or natural disasters. They love someone mainstream society says they should not or express their gender in ways that don’t fit society’s rules. They have black skin or brown, or wear a turban or hijab.
It’s you. It’s me. It’s the people we love. It’s the people we struggle not to hate. We’ve all of us found ourselves at the edge, in between, unaccepted or unacceptable. But Jesus was traveling through the land between Galilee and Samaria and they called out to him Jesus, master, have mercy on us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that Jesus meets us both on the boundary of our lives and also at the center.
Go, show yourselves to the priests. And they did. They did what they were supposed to do; what their culture, their rules, their values told them to do. With our individualistic, money driven, accomplishment driven, power driven world, we might relate more to Naaman’s values.
That great general did the things that won battles, won wars, won spoils, won honors and accolades. Naaman – the name means pleasant, a bit ironic for someone in his particular line of work, especially someone who was slowly rotting away from leprosy – Naaman took the advice of the Israeli slave girl and went off to the enemy Israeli king in search of a cure.
He did not come empty handed – he delivered his letter of reference from the king. He offered lavish gifts He would give anything, perform any feat of bravery, of daring. He expected grand recitations, grandiose ceremony, sacrifices – a little pomp if you please. The prophet didn’t even bother to come outside to meet him. Go wash in the Jordan said his messenger.
Naaman almost turned around and went back home, he was so mad. His servants saved his skin (quite literally). You’d do big things, pay big money, risk big risks – why not do the little thing Elisha asks?
Reading the story, you can see all the hot air blowing out of Naaman as he slowly deflates. His royal connections can do nothing. His military prowess is useless. The excessive ransom has been ignored. There is nothing left. Nothing except to strip down and bathe in a second rate muddy river according to the word of the man of God. And he was made clean. And he knew God. “All he had to do was empty himself out, abandoning the pretense that who he was, or what he was worth, could get him what he needed.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Cheap Cure)
Jesus responded to the needs of the ten – gives the gift of healing freely, but one was made well. The Greek is sozo (sodzo). It can be translated “made well”, but might better be understood here as “made whole”, in the sense of being completed and made to be what you were meant to be all along. (David Lose). He wasn’t made whole by writing Jesus a demur thank you note, or muttering “thank God” under His breath as he ran to the priest to be allowed to rejoin society. He was made whole by face planting at Jesus’s feet, letting go of hate and anger; embracing love and acceptance and “As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else.”
Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good. (Maya Angelou)