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3rd July 2016 - Hugh Perry

Date Given: 
1 July 2016

Readings

2nd Kings 5:1-14

Maurice Andrew notes that the prophets are a disturbing but creative force within the establishment of state religion.  Here we see the influence of a prophet going beyond Israel—even to an enemy as Naaman was the commander of a nation that is a threat to Israel.  Elisha's healing of Naaman was mediated through a woman, this time a captive slave.  The outcome of this disregard of rank, privilege and nation confused the foreigner and he declares that there is indeed' no god but the God of Israel. 

However in the next section the greed of Elisha's servant sets him apart from the healing power that crosses boundaries of nations and class and the deadly disease is transferred to him[1]

The God of healing and grace for whom Elisha is a prophet makes no distinction, race, nation, class or gender and the eternal question, the question for us in this passage asks how often do we, through greed or fear allow these barriers to expose us to disease. 

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel deals with the sending out of the 12, Chapter 10 we are about to read deals with the sending out of the 70.  This episode has an issue with translation because some ancient manuscripts have 72 disciples and some 70.  The New Revised Standard Version has chosen 70 and the Good News Bible has 72. 

Inconsistencies arise from time to time because the Old Testament translators work from the Hebrew original and the gospel writers, who write in Greek, take their allusions and quotations from the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture.  The challenge the English translators face in this section is lining up all the allusions because in Genesis 10 it is reported that there were seventy nations in the Hebrew text but seventy two in the Septuagint.  Moses then appoints 70 elders in Numbers which in the original Hebrew was the same as the number of nations in Genesis in the Hebrew text. 

Craddock notes that it is likely Luke is alluding to the Numbers text but says he is probably also preparing his readers for the gathering of people from all nations for the Pentecost event.[2]  We need to remember that if we read the Old Testament in Hebrew all those allusions Luke uses line up and translators have to make a judgement call.  Some translators have chosen 70 and others 72.

We can then get extra meaning by understanding that in the Old Testament there were seventy Gentile nations, seventy Israelites going into Egypt as the seed of the future people of God, seventy elders who accompanied Moses upon the holy mount who received a portion of the prophetic spirit.  So by allusion there is a reference to the gentile nations and Jesus is repeating Moses’ action in ordaining elders and a similar number comprised the Sanhedrin, the ruling representatives of the nation of Israel.[3]    .

Sermon

Statistics New Zealand's have reported that the wealth share of individuals shows the top 10 per cent of people have almost 60 per cent of wealth and the bottom 40 per cent of households hold just 3 per cent of total wealth.  In response Baptist minister and recently announced council candidate for the Waimairi ward Anthony Rimell commented that ‘suck-up economics’ was proceeding as planned and the rich got richer.

Independent economist Shamubeel Eaqub said the figures were further confirmation of the country's growing class divide.

‘Every time we see a new statistic on inequality, whether it's in terms of income, opportunities or wealth, it shows very clearly that New Zealand is being ripped apart by our class system.’[4]

There certainly was a class system in the time of Naaman and he and his king, along with the king of Israel, were all part of the ruling class of their time.

Just like an awful lot of elite and wealthy people everywhere they would have expected to be able to control their lives through their wealth and power. 

I remember a wealthy American in a documentary some time ago explaining that he opposed President Obama’s health care programmes because, as a wealthy American, he could get the best healthcare in the world.  But if he had to share that health care with the poor he might have to go on a waiting list.  Through his wealth he felt able to control his wellbeing but the first thing the story of Naaman tells us is that even a powerful general can get a killer disease.  

Anthony’s quip about ‘suck-up economics’ is of course a rebuttal of ‘trickle down’ economics which suggests that as a minority get very rich everyone else is better off as well. 

Perhaps the captive slave of Naaman’s wife was better off than when she lived as a peasant in Israel but I doubt she saw it that way.  However the real interest in this episode is that the healing in this story was nearer to ‘suck up’ rather than ‘trickle down’. 

It was the slave girl who suggested that Naaman visit Elisha but the King sent him with lavish gifts to the king of Israel instead.  In so doing he nearly provoked an international incident.  The king of Israel saw curing Naaman as impossible and therefore guessed the king of Aram was creating a reason to attack. 

The king of Israel might not have had weapons of mass destruction but accepting the gifts and failing to fulfil the request would be seen as a big enough insult to warrant an attack.       

It was Elisha who came to the rescue but he didn’t make a house call to the palace.  Elisha sent a message that Naaman should be sent to him and then added further insult by just getting his servant to instruct Naaman to go and wash in the Jordon.

Naaman thought that the cure was not complicated enough and it was one of his underlings who persuaded him to try the prescription anyway. 

In analysing the story we see the normal progress of power and authority from the top down.  Wealth is flouted to obtain influence and obtain the impossible.  Naaman’s king sends him to the king of Israel with an official request and ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of garments. (2 kings 5:5)  This offering of wealth adds to the obligation Naaman has to his king because kings are always nervous of successful generals.  Kings need successful generals to feel dependant on their king because generals often aspire to be kings.  The king also imagined that, just as he would expect a kickback if a foreigner was seeking a miracle from one of his subjects, the king of Israel would expect the same. 

As we have seen however the king of Israel misinterprets the payment and sees the ‘gift’ as the prelude to a hostile takeover.

All that posturing, bribery and fear of hidden threats is the normal power games that the ruling class has always played and still plays in our world.  A trickle down of wealth that may or may not leave some crumbs for the ordinary people if they are able to clip the ticket as the wealth moves past like Elisha’s servant tries to do in the next section of the story.

The surprising thread in the story is that compassion and healing moves up the social and wealth pyramid.  Not so much as a ‘suck up’ movement but a determined push of caring that irresistibly moves up and through until Naaman proclaims:

‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.’ (2Kings 5:15)  Furthermore Naaman offers a gift that Elisha refuses and only asks that Naaman honours the only God. 

The thread of compassion and healing begins at almost the lowest level possible in a patriarchal society. 

Compassion was expressed and help offered by the female slave of Naaman’s wife in a world where wives were considered chattels and captured slaves were not thought of as people. 

It was Elisha’s messenger that gave the instructions to wash in the Jordon and Naaman was offended because Elisha did not personally perform some religious ritual to heal him and simply suggested a good wash.  His national pride was also challenged because he felt there were better rivers at home to wash in.  Again it was a servant that suggested Naaman try doing as he was told.  

The argument was that if he was asked to do something difficult to affect a cure he would happily comply.  That argument surely speaks volumes to our own health care and has something to say about our religious practise as well. 

In our Gospel reading the disciples are sent out with a very minimum of fuss.  There are no lavish gifts for their host as there was on Naaman’s journey.  Naaman was sent to the palace but Jesus’ instructions were simply that the disciples should go to the towns and places that Jesus was to visit and just select places to stay at random.

The gift that they were bringing however was greater than Naaman’s silver and gold.  Naaman’s journey was a powerful man seeking the hope of healing but the disciples in Luke’s Gospel, all seventy or seventy two of them, were bringing both hope and healing.

The hope was Jesus’ message: ‘The kingdom of God has come near’.  Jesus’ instructions were also to heal.  Cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:9)

Like the healing of Naaman any healing offered must have been very basic and uncomplicated because the disciples were instructed not to take anything with them, ‘carry no purse, no bag, no sandals’ (Luke 10:30) which we can understand would include no credit card, no defribulater and certainly no machine that goes ping or any other sophisticated medical equipment.

What the disciples were instructed to offer was peace. Without getting into any discussion about how washing in the Jordon can cure leprosy or what sickness the disciples could or could not cure we know that a feeling of peace heals.  There is plenty of clinical evidence and personal experience around that tells us that anxiety and stress makes us vulnerable to all sorts of ailments.  Dis-ease makes us vulnerable to disease.  Whatever virus or bacteria are attacking us our immune system is better at fighting back if we are at peace with ourselves and our world.

Even in our time of scientific medicine and computer guided machines that can carve a crown for a damaged tooth in a matter of minutes there is healing that ordinary people can offer each other.

It was the very ordinary people who brought healing to Naaman and the gospels tell us that Jesus’ disciples were the very ordinary people of his world. 

All four gospels assure us that we too can be disciples of Jesus; we can offer peace and healing to our friends and our neighbours.

But the key message from the sending out of the disciples in Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus sent the disciples to go ‘to every town and place where he himself intended to go.’(Luke 10:1).

When we announce through words and actions to the people we meet along our life journey that ‘The kingdom of God has come near’ we are preparing the way for Christ.

When ‘Jesus calls us O’er the tumult of our life’s wild restless sea’ we are being called to go before him in our world. 

We are called to bring peace and healing to our world and in doing so we are bringing Christ into our world.



[1] Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington: DEFT 1999) p.255

[2] Fred B. Craddock Luke. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2009), pp. 144,145

[3] E. Earl Ellis The Gospel of Luke (London, Grand Rapids: Marshal, Morgan & Scott, Eerdmans 1991),pp.155,156

 

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