Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
2 Timothy 2:1-13
Then he said to him, ‘Get up, and go your way. Your faith has healed you.’
Orpah is another one of those obscure figures from scriptures. We are very familiar with her story, but because she gets lost in the telling of Ruth’s story. We talk about Naomi, her troubles and her bitterness. We talk about Ruth, her generosity and courage. We barely mention Orpah, the one who went home. I suppose we see her as the opposite of Ruth, perhaps a little greedy because despite her love for her mother-in-law.
And yet, what Orpah did was not wrong. As a matter of fact, she was obedient to her mother-in-law’s wishes. Naomi was a widow with no sons. She had no means of support. She wanted to return to her homeland where she might find generous relatives who would take her into their home. It wouldn’t be right for her to demand they also take in her daughters-in-law. Besides, the women were Moabites, and though her sons married them while in Moab, the girls would have difficulty finding husbands in Judah where marriage to foreign women was more firmly denounced. Naomi was being kind and generous by telling them to go home to find a new life. Orpah wept in grief about leaving, but she did so out of respect for the woman she’d grown to love.
We have a similar situation in the story from the Gospel. We again have what seems to be opposities: nine lepers leave Jesus to go to the Temple while one stays with Him. The nine did what was right according to Jesus’ word and the Law. We are quick to dismiss the nine because they didn’t go back and say “Thank you” to Jesus, but they did what they thought they were supposed to do.
Jesus commanded them to go to the priests and they all went in faith. I wonder what they were thinking as they left Jesus. It was proper to show yourself to the priest when you were cured of a disease, but they had not yet been cured. While they were leaving they were cured of their disease. Nine of the lepers continued to the priests, doing exactly as expected according to their religion and society. We do not hear any more about those nine men. Did they go straight to the temple and offer their sacrifices? Did they stop at home to hug their wives and kiss their children before taking their thanksgiving and praise to God? They were thankful, I am sure. This cure saved their lives. They could return home, work and live as a normal person again. It probably saved the lives of their families who suffered along with their loved one who’d been outcast. Their world was returned to them and their thankfulness was displayed in a return to the normal course of life. This is not a bad thing.
But is it enough? The psalmist writes, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. All those who do his work have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” That’s the difference we see in Ruth and the tenth leper.
People have all sorts of fears, even adults. Some people are afraid of spiders, others snakes. Other people are afraid of what will happen if they lose their job. Some are afraid to fly, others to walk in the woods. Fear causes some people to be burdened by behaviors that they think will protect them. Some people have so much fear that they are unable to leave their homes, meet new people, try new things or see the world in a different way. Sometimes these fears can be helpful, keeping people away from danger and protecting them from doing the wrong thing. However, most of these fears are ridiculous and can be debilitating.
The fear of the Lord is not like those irrational, debilitating fears. Easton’s Bible Dictionary says that it is “used in the Old Testament as a designation of true piety. It is a fear conjoined with love and hope, and is therefore not a slavish dread, but rather filial reverence.” This respect, which is the knowledge that God has the power to protect His children, will manifest itself in obedience. Like a mother who is always near a sleeping child so that he need not be afraid, our Father is close and we need not be afraid.
This fear, or reverence, for the Lord is where our life begins. Ruth followed Naomi, who was probably not very good company. Her bitterness made caring for her difficult, but Ruth willingly went into the fields to glean so that they would survive. Ruth’s love and generosity made a difference to Naomi, and in the end Ruth also found love and a future. Her future included children and grandchildren, including her great grandson David and ultimately Jesus Christ. It might have been frightening to go with Naomi, but God had plans for her life. Orpah may have had a wonderful life, but Ruth’s life was greatly blessed.
Jesus told the lepers to go to the priests. Like the nine, the tenth leper, a Samaritan, headed that way, in hopeful expectation for healing. Along the way they all were healed. The nine continued in joy, but the Samaritan returned to the One who made him clean. The ten lepers were all healed physically, but only one sought out the true healing. When He praised God, Jesus gave him far more. He was made whole: physically and spiritually. Jesus is concerned for our both our physical and our spiritual well being. Jesus changes people from the inside out, granting them forgiveness and filling them with the love of God, bringing them back into a relationship with their Creator. It is that relationship that makes them whole.
Do we respond to God’s grace with a word of thanksgiving before going on to our normal lives or are we changed forever by what God has done? That was the difference between Ruth and Orpah, the nine lepers and the Samaritan. Those who trusted in God were changed; they were made new. When they turned to God, they began a life of faith which is the true gift.
What is faith? I often define faith as trust in God, and yet is that definition deep enough? What does it mean to trust God? Ruth trusted Naomi’s God. The ten trusted Jesus’ words. They were all blessed by that trust; their lives were changed by faith.
Faith is not blind as so many would infer. The psalmist confesses his faith in the presence of an assembly, and he does so by recounting the wonderful things God has done. He praises God by referencing the works of His hands. “Yahweh’s works are great, pondered by all those who delight in them. His work is honor and majesty. His righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonderful works to be remembered. Yahweh is gracious and merciful.” Unfortunately, God’s people often forgot the great and marvelous things He has done and when He came to them in the final and most incredible act of mercy, they did not recognize Him.
The tenth leper saw the truth. The other nine were caught up in their own understanding of God; they did what they knew to be right according to their religion. They did not recognize the presence of God and ran off to do what was expected. They put their faith in their actions rather than in the One who could really make them whole.
Paul writes to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ.” It is not enough to confess faith in God. Our entire faith rests on Christ and His work on the cross. We cannot be saved in any other way but through Him. “For if we died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful. He can’t deny himself.”
We are healed for more than just a return to the old way of life. We are saved to be a blessing to others. Ruth followed Naomi and a God she did not know and she became the ancestor of kings and the King. We don’t know what happened to the Samaritan leper after he left Jesus, but as soon as he knew he was healed, he worshipped. I’m certain that he returned home praising God and telling others about Jesus.
Paul told Timothy to pass on the knowledge that he had been given. It isn’t enough to hear the Gospel and go on to live our lives as if nothing has changed. God’s grace gives us new life, life that is meant to be shared. The examples Paul gives are interesting because again, it is not bad to live life or do your job as expected. A good soldier is obedient to the commands of his leader. A good athlete focuses on his training. A good farmer reaps a harvest that will take care of his family. This is not bad. A person of faith, however, takes it to the next step. A person of faith glorifies God in their daily work. We are made new, transformed by God’s grace. We are no longer soldiering, running or reaping for ourselves. We are called to do all this for God. We are saved and healed through Jesus Christ who died for our sake.
We should go on to live our lives, to care for our families, to do our work. We should go to the Temple and show ourselves to the priests so that they can declare to our communities that God has done good things for us. We should go home and love our families. We should rejoice in the new life we have been given. However, faith takes it further. Faith heals. Faith trusts that it was God who did it for us; faith praises God for what He did. We are blessed to be a blessing for others. Orpah and the nine walked away from God with the promise of a good life. Ruth and the one received far more. They received the promise of eternity, the promise of a relationship with the faithful One who makes us whole.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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