A reflection on the readings for Proper 23C: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Luke 17:11-19, St. Giles, Northbrook, IL
A few years ago, in Christian Century magazine, I read an article about a group of women who had started a blog ring. Each of the women, some ordained and some not, belong to different Christian denominations. Each had a personal blog as well as participating in the ecumenical blog ring. The article inspired me to start my own blog. That blog ring led me to meet a woman in California who was discerning a call to ordination. One day on her blog she posted a reflection she called “This I Believe.” A woman’s group in her church was doing an exercise to get to know one another and build trust. They decided one way to do this would be to participate in this exercise about belief. The facilitator of the group based the exercise on the essay writing series from National Public Radio’s “This I Believe.”
This I Believe is a national media project that invites Americans from all walks of life to share brief essays describing the core values that guide their lives. The project is based on a popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow. The goal of This I Believe is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs; the goal is to encourage Americans to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for and reaching a deeper understanding of beliefs different from their own.
Now, since that day I have heard a few of those essays. Sometimes they focus on a core value that has to do with why they love baseball and sometimes they focus on something more profound, like a moment that transformed their life.
Our readings today from 2 Kings and Luke offer us stories about faith which transforms the main character giving them a new awareness of God, self, and others. These stories reflect some core values that are expanded by the main characters’ newly transformed awareness. The stories we hear today move us through what it means to believe, to see, and then to do.
In 2 Kings Naaman is a powerful soldier who has become ill. His servants come to Naaman with a way to be healed and convince him to go to Elisha. Although Naaman goes to see Elisha he is a bit put off by what Elisha suggests. It’s not grand, it’s incredibly simple, the process that will heal him. So simple he can’t do it. Because he thinks it’s supposed to be some kind of powerful cure – for this powerful warrior.
In 2 Kings we hear: “if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'?"
Well, it is a grand cure; it’s just a simple process that leads to it. God works in simple ways. Sometimes so simple we miss it if we aren’t looking.
Which leads us to seeing.
My husband and I have two dogs, one is twelve years old and the other is 8. For most of their lives they have had excellent hearing and eyesight. But as they age those traits are diminishing. Having active dogs, most days our primary goal is to exercise them enough to wear them out. Often we take them to a dog park where they can run off-lead. We make several rounds of walking the trails at the park. Then, before we leave, he and I separate as far apart as we can while still within eyesight of each other. My husband calls the dogs to come, and they run to him. Then I call the dogs to come and they run to me. Recently though, one of our dogs had a difficult time seeing us as we played this game. She would hear us call her and would take off in the general direction of our call but even though we were in plain sight, she couldn’t see us. Part of the problem is that there were a lot of other people between us and she couldn’t distinguish us from all the others.
Likewise sometimes our vision is over-stimulated and we are unable to see God active in our lives and the world. Or like Naaman our vision is masked by our expectations of how God ought to act.
In a moment of despair I can rarely say, “Oh, here is God active in my life and the world.” But in hindsight I can often say, “There is how and where God was acting.”
Likewise, once healed Naaman can see the action of God and returns to Elisha and says, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant."
Healed of his illness, Naaman sees the power of God in the world around him and it inspires him to do something. Likewise the healed leper in our Gospel reading is also inspired to do something. These lepers had a belief in the power of God which led them to come to Jesus asking to be healed. Seeing Jesus they cry out saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
In ancient Israel a person who was ill had to live on the fringes of the community in order to not infect everyone. A person who was cured of their illness had to be declared healed by the temple priests in order to be allowed back into the everyday life of the community. This is why Jesus sends them to the priest. The healing occurs on their way to the see the priests, from their belief in God and from the power of God active in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
The readings today offer us examples of people who faced profound obstacles in life. From these obstacles they encountered choices. In a similar way each of us have faced difficulties and suffered in life. No one escapes this; it’s a part of life. Like Naaman and the leper, when faced with hardship and suffering we too have choices with how we respond. While we cannot often change the circumstances we can choose how we respond to what happens. In the face of challenges and adversity do we see danger or opportunity? Do we live with anger or do we find compassion? Do we become bitter or do we become better? What do we believe? What do we see? And what do we do?
It reminds me of an old story:
A Kid asks his Grandfather
Why do some people hurt others and are mean and why are some people kind and help others?
The Grandfather says, “Because each of us have two wolves inside us. One wolf is angry, mean, bitter, and filled with fear. And, one wolf is kind, compassionate, and filled with love.”
The kid asks, “How do you know which wolf is angry and mean and which one is kind and compassionate?”
The Grandfather says “It depends on which wolf you feed!”
What are the core values of your life? What do you believe in and how do you act on your values and your belief? We all have options, what choices are you making? When faced with challenges and adversity what feeds your soul?