Sunday, February 16, 2003

Sixth Sunday of Epiphany
2 Kings 5:1-14
Psalm 30
1 Corinthian 9:24-27
Mark 1:40-45

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.

Today's scriptures look at two very different men, both who suffered from the same trouble. One man was a commander, a great and valiant warrior. He was highly regarded, a man of authority, one for whom even the king would give help in his troubles. His name was Naaman and he had leprosy. We know very little about the other man, only that he too had leprosy. Considering the time and the place, he was most likely outcast, set aside from his family and friends because of his disease. He was ceremonially unclean according to the Law, no one could touch him or anything he touched.

The Lord desired both these men to be healed, for He sent His Word to them so that they would seek out their deliverer. But God's plan for their deliverance was much more than just skin deep. Naaman was not from Israel, did not know the Lord God Almighty. He worshipped other gods. Naaman's wife had a servant, a young Israelite girl taken captive in a border skirmish. She told her mistress about the prophet Elisha who could cure his disease. Naaman told the king of Aram, who sent him on his way with a note for the king. Naaman took money and clothing as a gift, and he went to the king of Israel. The king mourned because he knew he could not heal Naaman and he thought it was a trick to get Israel into a war. But Elisha heard about the visit and sent a message to the king. Naaman would be healed in a way that would glorify God.

Naaman went to Elisha, but Elisha did not even come to his door. He sent a message to Naaman that he should go wash seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman went away angry, after all he was a highly respected man who expected a meeting with the prophet. He expected Elisha to call on the name of the Lord and wave his hands over the disease. And the prophet's words did not help. The Jordan River was muddy; the waters from Naaman's home were much better. "May I not wash in them, and be clean?" He did not realize it was the Word of God rather than the water itself that brought the healing.

He nearly left, but his servants said, "If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?" So, Naaman did as Elisha told him to do and he was cleansed. He praised God and confessed his faith.

Jesus had been healing and preaching throughout Galilee. Crowds followed Him wherever He went. One day, the man with leprosy saw Jesus, fell down before Him and cried, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." He had faith in Jesus because he had heard the stories of Jesus. Jesus was willing, and all He needed to do was to speak the words and the man would be clean. But Jesus did more. He reached out, touched the man and he was healed beyond his skin. Jesus told the man to go to the priest according to the Law but to keep quiet otherwise. The man was so filled with joy that he could not help but tell everyone he saw about what Jesus did for him.

These are stories of transformation and of praise to God. Leprosy covers the body like sackcloth, bringing condemnation and exile, pain and suffering. But as the psalmist writes, "Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness." That's what God does; He removes the things from our lives that bring us down and sets us free to live in joy and thanksgiving. It was wonderful that Elisha gave Naaman the words that led to his healing and that Jesus touched the man and set him free from his leprosy, but there was much more to those encounters. Both Naaman and the man confessed faith in God, being saved from death and the grave. That is the greater prize, the one for which Paul was racing.

It is all well and good when we can do good things in this world to make a difference in people's lives. It is all well and good when we are healed from our physical disease. But it isn't enough, it isn't what God wants for us. He desires that we have everything, which is why He sent Jesus. Jesus is far more than a wonderful teaching, prophet and healer. Jesus is our Savior, the one who touches us so deeply that we are made free from everything that binds us and keeps us from God. He turns our wailing into dancing and He clothes us with His righteousness. How can we stay silent? How can we go on without telling everyone this good news? Thanks to Jesus, we have a crown that will last forever. Thanks be to God. 

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