18 Pentecost, Year C: Humility and Healing

SUNDAY’S READINGS | October 9, 2022

Jer. 29:1, 4-7 or 2 Kgs. 5:1-3, 7-15c
Ps. 66:1-11 or Ps. 111
2 Tim. 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Great men held in high favor often carry in their flesh or soul some affliction that will not abate, even if carefully hidden: “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy” (2 Kgs. 5:1).

Did Naaman stand far from his troops, like the lepers in the New Testament story standing back from Jesus, as he issued commands, perhaps to spare them the risk of contagion or to hide visible evidence of his disease? The disease in his body was, no doubt, also a disease in his mind, a constant anxiety and fear. Did he ask, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). Lesser men and women of no reputation have their afflictions too. Human flesh is wounded flesh.

Whence cometh help? Generally, if you want help, it’s good to act helpless. Naaman’s wife, hearing from a slave girl in her household that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure his disease, informed Naaman, who in turn sought the assistance of the king of Aram. The king sent Naaman to Israel with a letter of recommendation, lavish gifts, and an entourage, all symbols of Naaman’s high position. From the height of status and power, carefully protected and displayed, Naaman looked for healing.

Arriving at the entrance of Elisha’s home, Naaman awaited signs of proper respect. He presumed that the prophet would come out to him, stand and call upon the Lord, wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy instantly. He wanted signs and wonders on his own terms, with his dignity intact. Instead, the prophet sent an envoy who told Naaman to wash in the River Jordan seven times. Naaman was outraged at this affront to his dignity, and the suggestion that the water in the River Jordan was better than the rivers of Damascus.

In this story, we hear a question sometimes asked by Jesus that may initially seem cruel. “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6). Healing requires humble submission to the one who can heal, and to the treatment employed. In other words, healing can be, in some sense, humiliating. Finally, Naaman “went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean” (2 Kgs. 5:14).

Here is another strange story. You come into a church well-dressed, aware of your position and standing. You want to join. Christ and his holy Church dare to tell you of a wound called sin, for which the cure is a triple immersion in water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You wonder, did I not refresh myself this morning? Am I not already clean? Christ wants to give you a deep-down cleansing, a new life, and a new spirit.

Christ is the great Physician. We do well to heed his instruction, obediently and humbly. Lastly, new life in Christ is a life of gratitude. Of the ten lepers Jesus heals in the New Testament story, only one returned to express his gratitude.

Lay aside your dignity; embrace humility and gratitude.

Look It Up: Psalm 66:11

Think About It: Every place of refreshment is a healing.

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