Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
2 Kings 5:1-14 • Ps. 30 • 1 Cor. 9:24-27 • Mark 1:40-45
The healing of Naaman, commander of the army of the King of Aram, was nearly thwarted by the finesse and ceremony of statecraft. A young captive girl from the land of Israel, who served Naaman’s wife, said to her mistress, “If only my Lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He could cure his leprosy.” With the permission of the King of Aram, Naaman set out carrying an official missive, money, and garments. As in all political maneuvering, suspicions run deep. Thus the King of Israel said, “He is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” Elisha the prophet, however, intervened, seeing both a political and religious advantage to a great healing, “that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel,” while there obviously is no such prophet in Aram.
After traveling to Elisha’s home, Naaman was met not by the prophet but by an emissary who told him to wash seven times in the river Jordan. Readers will commonly notice Naaman’s protest that the rivers of Damascus are just as good as the Jordan. They will also recall that Naaman submits finally to the instructed cleansing. The real heart of Naaman’s protest, however, is this: “I thought that for me he would surely come out.” His sense of public honor had been offended. Better to stay sick than risk a single compromise to one’s position. As in most journeys toward God and toward healing, a certain humiliation is required. Do you want your prestige or do you want the flesh of a child?
In the gospel, healings flow out of the One who is the river of life. Just as the river Jordan touched and cleansed Naaman, Jesus touches and makes clean. Preceding this, Jesus lifted the hand of Simon’s mother-in-law, and then the fever left her. Here the point is stronger as Jesus is deeply moved. We see him extending his hand to a man who is ritually unclean. Then, noting several striking details, Jesus eum tetigit (touched him) and then used an imperative: “Volo! Mundare!” (I desire it. Be cleansed). The Healer speaks with the voice of the Creator. Let it be.
Jesus recommends a ceremonial cleansing as prescribed by the law, but otherwise advised silence about the event. The news spreads, however, requiring Jesus “to stay out in the country.” Again, St. Mark shows the Great Physician moving in and out of the crowd, a pattern ignored at our own peril.
Once healed, then what? Paul speaks of honing the body like an athlete: “I punish my body and control it.” A few verses earlier he says he became all things to all men that “I may become a participant of the Gospel.” Here he mentions “control” so that I “may not be disqualified.” In other words, restoration carries with it a continual obligation for proper self-care and discipline.
There is, of course, the matter of those who are not obviously cured and the necessity of our seeing a sacramental and spiritual implication to these stories. We are not to throw salt on wounds with stories of “success.” At some secret level, by a hidden and inward grace, God heals, and it is that healing which is to be guarded and nurtured. Sometimes the healing is visible. Often it is not.
Let me illustrate. People come for Holy Unction. They come again a week later and then again a week later. They keep coming not because their healing lasts only seven days, but because they get something, whatever that something is. In truth, they get Qui est, the God who is.
Look It Up
Read Ps. 30:3. Here’s the healing of all healings.
Think About It
Look for the small thing God might be asking of you.