Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It Starts with Surprise

There’s some tension between this Sunday’s OT reading (Track2) and the Gospel lesson. In 2 Kings 5, Naaman, the Aramean general, comes to Elisha so that his leprosy can be healed. Not even leaving his house, Elisha sends word to Naaman that he should go and dip in the Jordan River seven times. Furious at the ridiculous instruction, Naaman prepares to leave and return home, when a servant of his encourages him to follow through. Of course, after dipping seven times in the Jordan, Naaman is cured, and he returns to Elisha’s house to show his gratitude and, most importantly, to admit that “there is no other God in all the earth except in Israel.”

In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus is heading for Jerusalem, walking in the region “between Samaria and Galilee.” I’m picturing a demilitarized zone of sorts—the kind of place where bad things happen and no one does anything about it. From a distance, Jesus sends ten on their way to show themselves to the priests, healing them as they go. When he discovers that he has been healed, one of the lepers—a Samaritan—returns to Jesus and gives thanks. Singled out for his faithfulness, Jesus affirms his salvation. The other nine, although questioned by Jesus, were merely doing what he told them to do, which was to fulfill the commandments by showing themselves to the religious authorities for readmission to the community. Perhaps only this Samaritan, whose religious practice was different from the Jewish lepers, was startled enough to break routine.

Both men received unexpected blessings. I think that both men were surprised to be healed. Naaman dipped himself into the Jordan fully doubting that it would work. The Samaritan leper walked down the road thinking to himself, “How is this going to work? I’m a Samaritan. What priest am I supposed to go find?” And the result of the unanticipated healings was profound gratitude to the one who offered the gift.

I believe that everything is gift. But I also believe that it’s easy to forget that. I’m wondering whether these passages are about the importance of identifying God’s blessings as just that—blessings—and the perils of forgetting it. The nine who walked on were not shocked by their healing. They went ahead doing what they were supposed to do. It was almost as if the miracle of healing lost is miraculous nature. It never occurred to them to turn around and give thanks. As the Naaman story continues, Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, gets greedy and ends up taking some of the money that Naaman had offered to his master as a thank-offering. You can read all of 2 Kings 5 here. Basically, though, we read that Gehazi seems to think that a price can be put on the miraculous healing—an action that undermines the spirit of gratitude from the first half of the story and that results in Naaman’s leprosy being put on Gehazi.

Have we become so accustomed to the blessings of life that we keep right on walking without even noticing the miracle? Have we forgotten what it means to receive what the Lord is giving us? What will shock us back into an appreciation for what God is doing in our lives? Will we be surprised back into gratitude?

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