For Feb. 12, 2012: 6 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading            2 Kings 5:1-14

The story of Naaman’s leprosy is familiar but full of surprises, beginning with the fact that Naaman the mighty general leads an army that has been beating up on Israel and taking slaves. It is through little people and little things that great Naaman gets his cure—and Naaman, given a little time, is bright enough to figure it out.

 

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Athletic competition was part of the culture in first-century Corinth. Today’s Epistle reading points to the athlete’s focus as a model for the kind of disciplined living that honors God; the prize, beyond our own salvation is drawing souls to Christ.

 

Further thoughts

The readings for this Sunday feature winners and losers—or perhaps more accurately people who’ve had to rethink just what constitutes winning.

Through most of human history, one’s social status has been determined by who one is connected to and related to, plus one’s ability to take independent action. By that standard, the biggest losers in today’s readings are the little slave girl, snatched out of Israel and away from her family, and the leper in the gospel. The big winners—at least at the beginning of the reading from 2 Kings and in the psalm—are Naaman and his king, with their wealth and might and their far-reaching networks of support and validation, and the psalmist who is so on top of the world.

But Naaman gets an ugly skin disease, and the psalmist gets a terrifying reminder of his mortality, and they begin to experience life as losers. Each of them suddenly finds himself in territory that’s all too familiar to the leper and the slave: the leper’s duty is to disappear altogether from decent human society, and the slave is invisible by in plain sight. Naaman is new enough to this terrain that he expects ceremony commensurate with his rank, and he expects to be able to pay for what he gets. The leper is an old hand: the most he dares expect is the society of other lepers. But both of them, propelled out of themselves by deep need and the presence of the Holy, break the rules: Naaman sets aside his dignity and the leper steps out of the shadows. Each receives healing, and each, like the psalmist, receives and confesses God.

In so doing, each becomes the winner that Paul describes. For winning is not receiving salvation and hoarding it: winning, Paul tells us, is doing what it takes to be the means through which the salvation of God comes into this needy, needy world.

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