... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Epiphany 6 – Year B, Message Feb 12th, 2012

God’s Authority in Jesus

Text: 2Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45

With the exception of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – which seems to be an odd fit – the lectionary readings today all concern miraculous healing and the proper response thereto. The story from 2 Kings and Mark 1 are parallel stories concerning the healing of a leper. Both stories deal with the dreadful and socially unacceptable disease of leprosy and the consequences of it. Both tell of the inexplicable power offered through an individual agent. Both result in the healing of one who cannot continue in society without an outsider’s help and both point to the source of all well being.

While the psalmist does not specify from what calamity he or she has been healed, the implication is that, whatever the condition had been, it had been one of extreme dread. The disease had resulted in the author being as one who is dead; cut off from normal society – friends, family; and having nothing to look forward to. However, having cried out to God in desperation and with sincerity, the psalmist is cured, is lifted out of the pit of despair and restored to health. In gratitude the sufferer dances for joy, testifies to God’s greatness and mercy and declares unfettered thanksgiving.

And despite what Jesus had asked from the man he healed that was his response. He went out and proclaimed freely what Jesus had done for him! It was a response of unbridled thanksgiving and joy at being made whole. Had our 2 Kings reading extended but one more verse we would have heard a similar reaction from Naaman. Naaman the renowned military commander of the armies of Aram is successful, mighty in battle and well respected. However, there is one thing preventing him from enjoying this prestige – leprosy. We have all heard of this disease but for most that’s it. Yet it plagues hundreds of thousands of people, and if not caught and treated early results in disfigurement and a slow painful death. Contagious from close contact the only management for this disease in pre 20th century times was isolation and leper colonies. Unfortunately there are many conditions which can resemble leprosy and in biblical times no distinction was made. Almost all skin conditions from tinca versicular to vitiligo or from eczema to psoriasis were deemed leprosy and leprosy meant loss of family and friends, business, pleasure, income, socialization and in Israel – the ability to worship at the Temple. Perhaps for us the only comparable condition would be AIDS.

Such was the plight of Naaman! Without a cure he would lose everything. Yet from a series of circumstances he is directed to seek out Elisha the prophet. Despite an intricate tale of political intrigue and paranoia Naaman eventually comes to Elisha and through him Naaman secures his cure. Naaman’s response is to proclaim the power of the one true God who dwells in Israel and offers presents to Elisha. The response is that of elation and joy. We can almost feel the weight of despair being shed.

So how come the man when Jesus heals is then told, “See that you say nothing to anyone”? Surely Jesus must have known that such a miraculous cure would evoke an uncontrollable elation and response!

Perhaps a closer look at the healing story might help us understand and appreciate Mark’s deeper motive for this story. As we have seen over the past 2 weeks in which we have heard of two healings – one of the man with the demon and Simon’s mother-in-law with the fever – alternative motives were present in Mark’s telling. As the man with the demon was cured to highlight the authority of Jesus’ teachings and as Simon’s mother-in-law was cured to contrast her response to that of the disciples, so is this healing story imbued with an ulterior agenda.

The story begins with the leper coming to Jesus begging to be made clean. Once healed however, Jesus orders him to go to the temple and show himself to the priests. Why such an injunction unless there is something behind the story? Here we enter into some speculation. Yet from what will come up in Chapter 2 we might surmise that the leper had gone at first to the Temple and had been rebuffed, or he, like Naaman had been the cause of much paranoia, among the leaders. In such a case the leper once made clean becomes the object of Jesus’ declaration to the Temple authorities. While some might take umbrage at this suggestion that Jesus would be using the healed man as a challenge to the priests and elders, several places in Scripture show Jesus to do just such things in an effort to open the eyes of the leaders to the truth of the kingdom and to the truth of their arrogance and self centeredness.

Perhaps the clue to this understanding in this 3rd healing miracle comes just after the man asks Jesus to make him clean. Our translation states, “Moved with pity.” However other translators have it, “moved by anger”. The translated word is the key. In Greek the word is ‘splanchnizomai’ which has no English equivalent. The connotation of the word as given by Blount and Charles states, 'splanchnizomai’ identifies a profoundly intense emotional response that viscerally propels one feeling compassion into action on behalf of others. All of us at some time or other have felt ‘splanchnizomai’.

Moved by intense emotional responses to disasters many and various relief organizations have been founded. Moved by intense emotional responses to injustices and social neglect many outcries have arisen. In recent years Canada has refused to recognize many of its citizen as citizens. Children who came to Canada as infants, who have lived here, been educated here, married here and had their own families here, have recently found out they are no longer eligible for citizenship or the benefits of citizenship. People who for various reasons had to move to the USA – as students or with family now find themselves with no citizenship in Canada or the US. The outcry from many against the Canadian government was splanchnizomai.

That was the emotional response Jesus had. Whether it was to the disease or to the social systems that had ostracized this man we don’t know. However, with that emotional response Jesus touched the man, healed him and then commanded him to show himself to the priests and elders. It was a moment of God’s authority in Jesus over against institutional and traditional authority and as later one will hear over and over, an authority the institution was unwilling to recognize.

Perhaps this is a wake-up call to us or maybe for us. Are we able to see the injustices? Are we able to see God’s authority? Are we able to differentiate between the authorities? May God grant us healing to be able to see and appreciate God’s authority in and through Jesus, and be liberated – be able to respond with joy and exultation.