Lectionary Readings for Sunday, July 7, 2019 - 4th Sunday of Pentecost, Year C
OT: 2 Kgs 5:1–14; Ps 30; NT: Gal 6:(1–6), 7–16; Gosepl: Lk 10:1–11, 16–20 (I am using the NIV, unless otherwise noted)
Here's my brief notes & musings on the lectionary texts for Sunday:
The lectionary does something a bit strange with the OT reading from 2Kings 5 by stopping at v.14, as the theological heart of the story of Naaman's healing comes in vv.15-19. In those verses we see that Naaman (the powerful Syrian General, an "outsider" to God's covenant with Israel) isn't just "cured" from his leprosy (which quite clearly is NOT Hansen's disease, or what we call leprosy today - it is rather some sort of skin condition that is not a social barrier, as most skin conditions, especailly Hansen's disease, were), but is "healed." That is, Naaman is not just relieved of his skin condition (i.e., "his flesh was restored" v.14), but his deeper spiritual condition is addressed and he is restored in his innermost being. That is, he comes to faith in the God of Israel and is restored in his relationship to the Creator. There is a definite power-reversal dynamic at work in this text at several levels as, first, the initial impetus toward Naaman's healing comes from a Hebrew slave-girl captured and taken in hostilities with Israel. Furthermore, Naaman's king neglects the prophet (Elisha), whom the Hebrew slave-girl has said could heal Naaman, and sends Naaman directly to the king of Israel - with the clear implication that the king of Israel needs to heal Naaman or there will be trouble. (N.B. it is significant that the text does not name the most humanly powerful actors in the story - the kings of Aram and Israel.) Then Naaman - with echoes of Ps 20.7 ("Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God") - "went with his horses and chariots" - symbols of military power and prestige - "and stopped at the door of Elisha's house" (v. 9). But Elisha doesn't even bother to come out, and instead sends his messenger telling Naaman to bathe seven times in the river Jordan. But Naaman's classism and ethnocentrism initially causes him to reject this solution - (v.11) he is not being treated with the honour his status accords (classism) and (v. 12) Hebrew rivers are inherently inferior to the rivers of his homeland because, well, they're in Israel...(ethnocentrism). Finally, once again we see that the persepctive to see things properly comes not from a priveleged position of power, but from Naaman's slaves: "My Father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?" (v. 13).
In the NT lection in Gal 6, Paul continues his case - which we rehearsed in last week's lection - against the Missionaries (as Richard Hays calls them) or the Teachers (as J. Louis Martyn calls them) who have argued that Christian believers must follow the OT Law (and thus Gentile converts must be circumcised) in order to live in the Kingdom of God. Paul has been arguing that the Law has no power to resist or counteract or deactivate what Martyn translates as "the Impulsive Desire of the Flesh." If one puts oneself under the Law, one has, in fact, become a slave once again to the Flesh and, in fact, to Death. But "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Gal 5.1). It is (only) the Spirit who gives Life, Freedom, and the ability to counteract the Flesh. So, Paul argues, all one needs to live by is the Spirit - no circumcision or Law. The solution, we saw, is to become slaves to each other in love (Gal 5.13). Here, in ch 6, Paul states that "what counts is new creation [in Christ]" (v.15). This new creation is experienced in the community created by the Spirit and in whom the Spirit dwells - the one in which we serve each other in mutual, self-giving love. This is "the law of Christ" (v. 2): that we love each other and involve ourselves in the trying process of working through our brothers' and sisters' weaknesses, shortcomings, failures, challenges, anxieties, hardships, torments, and misfortunes - what Paul simply calls our "burdens" (v. 2) - with them (not against them, or inspite of them). That is, we are to love the people in the community of faith by not leaving them alone in them to face these "burdens" alone. And thus if they are "caught in a sin...restore [them] gently" (v.1) with the result that "as we have opportunity" we "do good to all people, especially those who belong to the household of faith" (v. 10).
The Gospel for this week has become somewhat of a motto for the "missional church" movement. In it Jesus sends out the 70 two-by-two on a mission to the towns around them. This, in actuality, is a bit of a difficult text to treat exegetically, and I will not do so here. Assuming that this text is instructive for Jesus' mission among us today, I simply want to point out: 1. The harvest is "the Lord's" and it is the Lord who sends out the workers (v.3) - thus it is not our mission nor our responsibility to make it successful, 2. it is a mission of peace and the 70 are to seek people of peace (v. 5) - thus we are not seeking converts as much as we are seeking the shaloam (a nuanced, Hebrew concept) of those we meet and witnessing to God's peace, 3. their proclamation / message is: "The kingdom of God is near"! (v. 9) - thus we are not "bringing the kingdom" nor "building" it, and 4. this mission is the undoing of "the Prince of the Power of the Air" (Eph 2.2), that is, "Satan" (v.18) - and thus as we go out faithfully in this non-violent witness, the powers of evil our broken and people find release from destructive cycles of violence (cf. Rene Girard's excellent I Saw Satan Fall).