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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 14 - Proper 9 - Year C
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16; Luke 10:1-11,16-20
alt - Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9


The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary 14 - Proper 9 - Year C


2 KINGS 5:1-14           The story of Naaman, commander of the Aramean
army, being cured of leprosy through Elisha, the prophet, is one of those
graphic Bible stories often told to children with the added moral about the
virtues of obedience.  There is surely more to it than that despite of
considerable ambiguity in the details.  Naaman's cure is an example of
God's gracious concern for non-Israelites.


PSALM 30                 This psalm of thanksgiving for recovery from a
nearly fatal illness apparently became a hymn of congregational praise in
the temple liturgy.  It appears to have been used on anniversaries of the
rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus in 164 BC when it was
interpreted as expressing the national experience of survival from imminent
disaster.  It may still be used in this way at the Feast of Hanukkah.


GALATIANS 6:(1-6)7-16    Freedom does not give license for immoral
behaviour.  Each one has to be personally responsible for one's own
conduct, but also "bear one another's burdens."
     
Those who choose to live according to the shifting values of the secular
world will find themselves isolated from the effective moral and spiritual
life.  This life  exemplifies love incarnate and is fulfilled in the life
beyond death.  It is the quality of life expected of individual Christians
in the world and especially in the Christian fellowship. 


LUKE 10:1-11,16-20       The theme of this passage is "the harvest," but it
is not clear whether this implies an imminent end of the age or a longer
period of missionary work.  The latter seems probable in the light of
Luke's general attitude of a delayed Second Coming of Christ in contrast to
Matthew's more imminent expectation.  Yet the passage also has an element
of warning that calls for a clear decision about discipleship which cannot
be overlooked. 


          NOTE: There are two alternative lessons from the OT and
          Psalms. The summaries and analysis of these passages
          follow those of the regular RCL lessons. 


ISAIAH 66:10-14          This winsome poetry bids the exiles in Babylon to
rejoice with Jerusalem.  It also casts Yahweh as the mother of Israel who
nurses her beloved child back to flourishing health. 


PSALM 66:1-9             The psalmist speaks both as an individual and as a
representative of the nation.  He rejoices in recalling Yahweh's mighty
deeds and calls all people to join the celebration.

************

2 KINGS 5:1-14   The story of Naaman, commander of the Aramean army, being
cured of leprosy through Elisha, the prophet, is one of those graphic Old
Testament stories told to children, perhaps with the added moral of the
virtues of obedience.  There is surely more to it than that in spite of
considerable ambiguity in the details as they now appear in the text.
     
The Arameans lived in southern Syria in the area around Damascus and anti-
Lebanon mountains along the northern borders of Israel.  David had defeated
the Arameans, but their city-state of Damascus won its freedom from
Solomon.  They then became persistent opponents of Israel until the late
8th century BCE when they were overrun by the invading Assyrians. 

While the king of Israel whose ire was raised to such extremes by the
letter from the king of Aram is not identified (vs.7), the mutual fear of
one for the other had never been overcome.  He is believed to have been
Jehoram (ca. 849-842 BCE) who during his short reign was engaged in
frequent wars with neighboring countries of Aram to the north, Moab to the
east, and Edom to the south.  He may well have had reason to be suspicious
of this stranger, general of an enemy army moreover, who came bearing gifts
and making such a strange request (vs.7).  The present hostility of modern
Syria and Israel, based on mutual threat to each other's existence, has a
long, biblically-sanctioned history, especially for the fundamentalists of
both Judaism and Islam.
     
Some serious moral issues about disease and punishment complicate this
story, especially as it develops in that part not covered by this passage.
As it stands in the present limited segment, no moral interpretation is
interpreted to Naaman's affliction with leprosy.  It was the compassion of
an Israelite slave-girl for her captor which ultimately brought him face to
face with Elisha.  A note in the NRSV points out that "leprosy" was "a term
used for several skin diseases: the precise meaning (of the Hebrew word is)
uncertain."  Even household mold or mildew could be described by this word.

For his part, Elisha seemed only concerned to show his power as a prophet
of Yahweh (vs. 8).  He appears to have been somewhat dismissive of the
king's helplessness.  However, this may have been a reflection of the
editor who included the story in the Elisha cycle.  Naaman only sought to
acknowledge the power of Yahweh as a last resort, even if he had to take
some soil from Israel back to Aram with him to do so. (vss.15-17)  This, of
course, is typical henotheism, the concept of a god having power only
within a specific tribe or nation state.  A modern version of this concept
occurs in the belief that a specific nation such a Great Britain, Canada or
the United States, or a specific political system such as socialism or
capitalism, exhibits the highest Christian values.  It also motivated the
South African theory of racial separation known as apartheid which for
nearly fifty years denied political rights to all but five per cent of the
population
     
The reply of the Israelite king to Naaman's request (vs. 7) oversimplifies
the current belief that the king had divine powers.  This was not unknown
in those cultures where monarchs had priestly as well as political roles to
fulfil. On the other hand, the subsequent action of Elisha exemplifies an
editorial correction that the power to heal was not the possession of
either king or prophet, though the latter were often attributed with
greater powers than the former, as in this case.  For us who turn to the
New Testament to understand the Old, we find that in Luke 4:27 Jesus
referred to Naaman's cure as an example of God's gracious concern for non-
Israelites.  Is this not the true moral emphasis behind the story as we
have it in 2 Kings 5?


PSALM 30   This individual psalm of thanksgiving for recovery from a nearly
fatal illness apparently became a hymn of congregational praise in the
temple liturgy.  If the superscription is to be believed, it appears to
have been used on anniversaries of the rededication of the temple by Judas
Maccabeus in 164 BCE.  Later Judaism interpreted it as expressing the
national experience of survival from imminent disaster.  It may still be
used in this way at the Feast of Hanukkah.  Another possible way to look at
it is in terms of the individual Jew as representative of the whole nation
in much the same way that the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah
represents the whole community of exiles in Babylon.

Despite the psalmist's rejoicing for divine help in time of dire need, he
is also conscious of Yahweh's anger at his false overconfidence before he
fell sick. (vss.6-7)  Such an attitude comes naturally to anyone who enjoys
great success.  We see it exemplified in persons of wealth and power.  It
has been said that one must have a very large ego to become the political
leader or the chief executive officer of a large corporation.  A former
Canadian prime minister who governed well after winning three minority
elections, once said that a majority made a prime minister a virtual
dictator.  As we have seen in Canada, Great Britain and the USA, democratic
elections often reveal great folly in those elected with a very large
majority. 

A sense of bargaining with Yahweh enters into the supplication in vss.8-9.
The questions are not merely rhetorical.  Such a challenge to Yahweh
depended on the ancient belief that a god with no one to praise him/her was
an extinct deity.  That did not occur because the worshiper was saved from
death when his repentance brought forth Yahweh's forgiveness and his lament
became a song of joyous thanksgiving (vss.10-11).


GALATIANS 6:(1-6)7-16   Freedom does not give license for immoral behavior,
Paul writes at the end of his Letter to the Galatians.  Each one has to be
personally responsible for one's own conduct, but also each one is charged
to "bear one another's burdens" (vss.1-5).  Paul also issues a strong
warning about moral overconfidence.
     
There are serious implications, he goes on to say, in all we do.  Those who
choose to live according to the shifting values of the secular world will
certainly find themselves isolated from the effective moral and spiritual
life exemplifying love incarnate fulfilled in the life beyond death (vss.
7-9)  This is the quality of life expected of individual Christians in the
world and especially within the Christian fellowship (vs.10).  In other
words, as said elsewhere in the gospels and epistles of the NT, we have to
live in the world, but also remember that we are not exclusively citizens
of this world.

If this appears to be a somewhat ambiguous stance to take, one only needs
to look at contemporary events.  Even the best intended actions can be seen
in different lights from different viewpoints.  The following analysis of
one event illustrates how this is so.

On June 22, 2001 Pope John Paul II visited Ukraine and held masses there
which were attended by smaller crowds that expected.  This papal visit
attempted to heal the one thousand year old rift between the Orthodox and
the Roman Catholic Churches.  The visit was well received by two branches
of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, but it was boycotted and severely
criticized by the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest
church in Ukraine.  This could be understood when one realizes that the
papal visit began on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Mary, a Roman
Catholic feast inaugurated by Pope Pius XII in 1945 and dedicated to the
conversion of Russia.  On the other hand, the Orthodox Churches were just
beginning to recover from 75 years of suppression by Communists
dictatorships. 
     
Paul may have suffered from poor eyesight and needed someone to help him
put his letters into manuscript form.  In vs.11 he takes up the pen himself
to reiterate his concern that the "circumcised" do not compel the Galatians
to return to the covenant of Judaism requiring total obedience to the Law
of Moses.  By concentrating on the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the
cross, Jews and Gentiles alike will be part of the new creation God intends
(vss.11-15).
     
Yet Paul still has a soft spot in his heart for his fellow Jews.  He prays
for them to have peace, and for mercy on all "Israel of God" (vs.16).  It
is a touching personal note from someone who had suffered such hostility
from his fellow Israelites.


LUKE 10:1-11,16-20   Note that this is a second "missionary journey" on
which Jesus sends some of his followers.  In Like 9:1-6, he sent out "the
twelve;" here it is "seventy others," implying that "the twelve" stayed
with him this time at some central base.  If this occurred during the final
journey (cf. 9:51), it was an interruption in what B.H. Streeter once
called "a slow progress towards Jerusalem."  On the other hand, Hans
Conzelmann has argued that it "introduces into the scheme material which
itself does not belong there, as shown by 10:17." ("The Theology of Luke."
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961, p.67)  Conzelmann also notes that there
is a clear distinction between the apostolic character of "the twelve" and
the role of "the seventy" as agents or messengers.  The difference lies in
the "power and authority" given to "the twelve" (9:1) and the message given
to "the seventy."

The theme of the message is "the harvest" but it is not clear whether this
implies an imminent end of the age in eschatological terms or a longer
period of missionary work.  The latter seems probable in the light of
Luke's general attitude of a delayed Parousia in contrast to Matthew's more
imminent eschatology.  Yet there is an element of warning that calls for a
clear decision about discipleship which cannot be overlooked. (vss.11-12).
     
John Dominic Crossan has presented an interesting approach to this passage
as exemplifying the contrasting methods of the post-apostolic church in
proclaiming the gospel by word of mouth and communal behaviour.  His
hypothesis is that there were two distinctive approaches, one by resident
householders who developed a type of "domesticated gospel of the kingdom"
and one by a more radical itinerant and necessarily smaller group who
developed an apocalyptic gospel.  This established a dialectic which
enabled the gospel to spread more effectively, especially in the late 1st
and early 2nd centuries CE and could do so for our time as well.  Crossan
believes that this is both a clarifying and a helpful view at this stage in
our understanding of the NT.  His excellent article "Jesus And The Kingdom"
in *Jesus At 2000* edited by Marcus J. Borg discusses this view with
considerable force.

The woeful rebuke of Choraizin, Bethsaida and Capernaum (vss.13-15) have a
parallel in Matthew 11:20-23 and so have most likely come from Q, the
unknown source on which both drew part of their material.  There is a
significant difference in Luke's version, where the "deeds of power" are
not repeated three times as in Matthew.  In Luke 24:49 the apostolic
community is not to be "clothed with power" until Pentecost.  This appears
to counter the observation above, however, that for their first mission,
the apostles were given "power and authority."  The intent of the curse on
the three towns, nonetheless, was to urge their repentance (vs.13).

These towns were at the north end of the Sea of Galilee not far from
Tiberias on the west coast.  Herod Antipas had built Tiberias ca. 25 CE to
serve as the capital of his tetrarchy of Galilee and Perea.  Though it had
been chiefly a Gentile city, it became a place of refuge for Jews from
Jerusalem after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE and was named as one
of the four sacred cities in Palestine.  About 150 CE, the Sanhedrin was
moved to Tiberias from Sepphoris, another Graeco-Roman city about 15 miles
up in the western hills of Galilee north of Nazareth.  Subsequently
influential schools of rabbinic studies were established in Tiberias.
     
In Luke's time, however, (c. 80-85 CE) the rivalry between Jews and
Gentiles, and between Jews and Christians, in this area may have been very
intense.  It would appear that the real intent of this passage was to urge
the Christian mission everywhere to continue unabated in the face of
mounting opposition because it had been instituted by Jesus himself during
the latter stages of his Galilean ministry. This remains the dominical
mandate for evangelism. 

************

ISAIAH 66:10-14   The winsome poetry of this oracle bids the exiles in
Babylon rejoice with Jerusalem.  The prophet pictured that holy city, to
which the exiles would soon return, as an infant seeking comfort by nursing
at its mother's breast (vs. 11).  The prophet also casts Yahweh as the
mother who nurses her beloved child back to flourishing health (vss.12-13). 
Not only that, but Israel's prosperity would return so that other people
would see that Yahweh was with his servants, Israel.

The great insight of Deutero-Isaiah and his school of prophets was to see
his people as the servants of Yahweh.  At this time of year usually marked
by national celebrations in both Canada and the US may be in the early
stages of mourning and needing reassurance about the failures of our
governments.  It might be well to recall that much of our power, prosperity
and international reputation depend on the ways in which our countries can
be servants to one another and to other peoples rather than lording it over
other people in arrogant superiority.  In her 1984 work, *The March of
Folly: From Troy to Viet Nam,* historian Barbara Tuchman pointed out that
blindly overestimating a nation's privilege, power and influence had been
the cause of numerous military defeats and the fall of great empires.  This
failure of purpose came about through what Tuchman called "destructive
stupidity."  She also included the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries
and six successive Papacies of the 15th and 16th centuries as examples of
the Christian Church suffering from this same destructive folly. 


PSALM 66:1-9   One interpretation of this psalm describes it as a liturgy
of thanksgiving by a person of wealth and national prominence.  As a
liturgical psalm, that person may be speaking both as an individual and
also as a representative of the nation.  He rejoices in recalling Yahweh's
mighty deeds and calls on all people to join the celebration.  It is also
possible that the latter part of the psalm not included in this reading
(vss. 13-20) may be from a separate work. 

After an initial outburst calling on others to join his praise (vss.1-4),
the psalmist recalls some of the mighty acts of Yahweh.  Most significant
of all in Israel's religious memory is the Exodus and trek through hostile
territory to the Promised Land (vss. 6-7).  The selection ends with a
summons to all people to praise Yahweh for keeping Israel alive during such
turbulent times.  This could well be prayer of every nation as they
celebrate their national festivals.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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