O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
Then afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
1 Be joyful in God, all the earth; •
sing the glory of his name;
sing the glory of his praise.
2 Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! •
Because of your great strength
your enemies shall bow before you.
3 ‘All the earth shall worship you, •
sing to you, sing praise to your name.’
4 Come now and behold the works of God, •
how wonderful he is in his dealings with humankind.
5 He turned the sea into dry land;
the river they passed through on foot; •
there we rejoiced in him.
6 In his might he rules for ever;
his eyes keep watch over the nations; •
let no rebel rise up against him.
7 Bless our God, O you peoples; •
make the voice of his praise to be heard,
8 Who holds our souls in life •
and suffers not our feet to slip.
9 For you, O God, have proved us; •
you have tried us as silver is tried.
10 You brought us into the snare; •
you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
11 You let enemies ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water; •
but you brought us out into a place of liberty.
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he 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.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.’
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, •
in the company of the faithful and in the congregation.
2 The works of the Lord are great, •
sought out by all who delight in them.
3 His work is full of majesty and honour •
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He appointed a memorial for his marvellous deeds; •
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He gave food to those who feared him; •
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He showed his people the power of his works •
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are truth and justice; •
all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever; •
they are done in truth and equity.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; •
holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
a good understanding have those who live by it; •
his praise endures for ever.
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:8-15
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising
God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
Sermon on Twentieth Sunday of Trinity
“Keeping their distance, the ten lepers called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’” The evangelist gives us a great deal to think about with this one statement and I would like to think with you about this miracle story.
We can consider it literally, that it is only about lepers, or we can consider it historically, that it is about the miracle of healing in its socio-political context, or we can consider it symbolically.
The literal interpretation is quite simple, that it is a story about these ten lepers who stand at a distance from Jesus and ask for mercy. Jesus told them to go to the priests, to show themselves. They were healed as they went their way. Only one man, a foreigner, turned back to Jesus when he realised he was cured and approached Jesus with thanks. Jesus told him to go on his way because his faith had healed him.
For many this literal interpretation of the story is just what it is, a retelling of the story in virtually the same words. The facts, just the facts, as the policeman says, is enough for some.
But sometimes we muse about these facts we have been told, don’t we? We want to know more about who these ten lepers are. We want to be historically accurate about these nameless men who went to the priests in the temple at Jesus’ insistence. And, we ask ourselves – Who was this foreigner, this Samaritan, who turned to Jesus when he realised he had been cleansed of leprosy? Our curiosity gets the better of us, doesn’t it, when we start to reflect on the literal meaning of the passages we read. Our interest makes us dig into the setting of the story, the characters, and the relationships between them – and then we find out lots more facts about lepers, the societies of middle east, the politics of the hellenistic period when Jesus lived, and all the cultures clashing at the time.
Perhaps we read the commentaries and find explanations about leprosy like “This disease was regarded as an awful punishment from the Lord.” (Easton). Such an interpretations tell us why the lepers stood apart, don’t you think? This writer makes it clear why the lepers stood apart, doesn’t he? That they are lepers is significant for this story, they are outcasts and show how Jesus dealt with people around him. In that time, lepers were feared. Who would want to deal with someone who were being punished by the Lord? No one obviously knew anything about the disease, but they did have that idea about why people got the disease. But Jesus dealt with the leper as a human being who needed his help. After all, weren’t they crying for his mercy?
This historical interpretation can serve to prick our consciences, that we might behave just a little differently to the stranger we meet on our daily lives.
This story reminds me of another man who met a leper – his feast day was last week – Francis of Assissi came upon a leper and had the prejudice of his age, but then he had a moment of clarity and he chucked all that cultural baggage away. Remembering the love of the Lord, he embraced him and greeted the leper with the kiss of peace. He understood finally what we mean when we sing the old hymn, “Just as I am.”
Then I have the question nagging me about our story – What is this distance that everyone is keeping? Well, this was the expected behaviour for the time – and our time – after all, don’t we treat some people “like lepers”? They rang their bells in later times, calling for alms and at the same time warning of their arrival. What do our modern day lepers do to get the same treatment? We have to leave that question for another time. Suffice it to say this – we do treat people badly even today, just as badly as lepers were treated in all those times past and we have to do better.
But that phrase, “like lepers”, leads to the third method of interpretation, the symbolic, where we find one thing signifying another. Even some of the commentaries make such an interpretation while they expostulate on the literal, “Leprosy was ‘the outward and visible sign of the innermost spiritual corruption; a meet emblem in its small beginnings, its gradual spread, its internal disfigurement, its dissolution little by little of the whole body, of that which corrupts, degrades, and defiles man’s inner nature, and renders him unmeet to enter the presence of a pure and holy God’ (Maclear’s Handbook O.T).” This explanation of leprosy speaks symbolically to human sin. Explicitly, the commentator says leprosy is “the outward and visible sign”. – But the whole of the miracle can be seen as symbolic. I would like to see the fact of the ten lepers standing some way off and calling to Jesus, “Have mercy!” as symbolic.
The distance is of importance, I think. Why do they ask “from a distance”? Is this the same gulf which separates Dives and Lazarus? Is it insurmountable? Can it be crossed? Is it the chasm which separates each person? This chasm is the symbolic distance which we assume exists between the human and the divine, isn’t it? This miracle may not be about a literal healing when we examine it with the logic of symbols. Rather, this story is about the reduction of that perceived disjunction, it is about the restoration of wholeness.
I think this story tells us that although everyone is leprous with all that that entails – just as that puritan commentary states – we like those ten men can be cleansed. However, the foreigner, someone who has a distance from the Jewish tradition returns to Jesus. He comes back to give thanks. The implication is that only he realised the connection, the bridge, between himself and the source of wholeness. He, I would say, knows that Jesus is the connection, the source of all goodness, the source of his final healing.
That is how I see this miracle as symbolic. We are the lepers at a distance, unable or perhaps unwilling to approach what is real in our lives, though we call to it incessantly. The distance can be overcome if we but see the “facts” before us. Those facts become symbols with our reflection, with our faith. We call out to our Lord and Saviour for salvation, but always at a distance. Our calls have been answered if we but realise it, if we turn to approach our Lord much closer, like that foreign leper who sees clearly the symbols through which he has been living his life. We must overcome the distances in our lives in order to live lives of fullness which Jesus promises if we come near.