It would seem this Sunday’s readings are about healing. The Reverend Martin Smith commented in Living the Word in Sojourners this month that instead of this time of year being “church lite” we are intended to soak in the Word of God.
Well, Naaman wasn’t too excited in our story about soaking in the dirty Jordan River. I can attest to that--the bottle I have here of water from that river has a bit of sediment in the bottom. It was in many ways an unimpressive ditch of a river. If we had crossed it at that narrow, shallow spot, we would have passed into another country. But we did wade in a bit.
We all have heard this story of Naaman before--none of these stories are new to us. The Reverend Smith states that the church is like Naaman’s shrewd aide when it invites us to trust in the power of hearing the scriptures again and again. We can truly soak in the Word of God.
Is the story really about healing? Naaman seems the sort of person who has not only the respect of those who work for him but also their honest affection. They want what is best for him--to be healed. They wish for him to know that God loves him and is willing to take care of him if he will do something rather simple: dip himself seven times in the River Jordan. It seems more about the willingness to follow instructions than the resulting healing.
We have the 70 people Jesus sent out in pairs. It was a kind of scouting mission. Jesus sent them to places he planned to visit. They were also healing people but, again, is it really about healing or follow directions? Trusting that God would take care of them. In The Message [Eugene Peterson] Jesus says, “Travel light. Comb and toothbrush and no extra luggage. When you enter a home, greet the family, ‘Peace.’ If your greeting is received, then it’s a good place to stay. But if it is not received, take it back and get out. Don’t impose yourself. Don’t move from house to house, looking for the best cook in town.”
The 35 pairs returned triumphant in their experiences of healing and casting out demons. Jesus told them, “I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you--that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”
They had followed Jesus’ instructions and they were successful. And, as Reverend Smith points out, Jesus takes this success and places it in a larger context: that of good over evil. The ejection of Satan from Heaven is part of what they are doing. When they enter a house in peace, Satan is fired. When they heal someone, Satan is fired. When they cast out demons, Satan is fired. The accuser who would point out our flaws--who would tell Naaman, “You can’t amount to anything; you have leprosy! You can only step aside and hope someone will put out a dish of food for you.” The accuser who would tell each of these 70 followers of Christ, “You are not God, you are not Jesus--how can you go out in the name of God and ask for anything? How can you minister to anyone or expect anyone to be interested in your stories of the Kingdom of God?” You are short, chubby and aging plus you don’t have a bachelor’s degree--how can you be a priest in Christ’s church?
But, God was with Naaman because he had come on this risky journey where he might be considered an outcast and he asked for healing first from a king, and then from a prophet who wouldn’t even come to look him straight in the eye. Satan was fired. The 70 went out with the invisible support of Jesus’ prayers, with the power of Jesus’ stories, and with the confidence that God loved them and was with them. Satan was fired. And, here I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. Satan was fired!
Yet, Jesus warned them they might not always be successful. “When you enter a town and are not received, go out in the street and say, ‘The only thing we got from you is the dirt on our feet, and we’re giving it back. Did you have any idea that God’s kingdom was on your doorstep?’” So, if they felt called by God they couldn’t let a failure keep them from keeping on. God loved them in their failures just as he loved them through their successes. Satan is fired. All of us are called to go out in the name of Christ and tell His story--to tell our stories so the accuser has no power. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 11:20]