The story for October 9, 2022, drawn from the Bible readings set for this Sunday in the interdenominational Revised Standard Lectionary. This makes a great study for home groups or Bible study groups, in conjunction with The Living Word for October 9 verse-by-verse study and reflection questions.
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15 — Outsider Naaman encounters God in his healing
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 — God’s true word is sent to reassure the exiles
Luke 17:11-19 — The most excluded leper receives the full salvation
2 Timothy 2:8-15 — The Good News for all is not to be restricted
This week’s episode in The Living Word is about love – specifically God’s heart of love, especially for those who are distant from Him.
Of the three stories that make up the overall story of love that knows no distance, two are drawn from the Old Testament, and one from the life of Jesus. They come into sharper focus with Paul’s strict reminder to Timothy: Never forget what the gospel is all about!
Let’s begin with these praise words from Psalm 66, reflecting on how awesome God is in Himself as well as His actions, with an open invitation to come and see what he has done.
Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious.*
Say to God, how awesome are Your deeds! So great is your power that… all the earth bows down to You; they sing praise to You, they sing the praises of Your name. Come and see what God has done… come, let us rejoice in Him.
Psalm 66:1-6 excerpted
Now we will hear the compelling story of a renowned general, a man of considerable means, status and not a little hubris but also with a desperate need — freedom from an incurable, disfiguring skin disease. But the path to his freedom was going to involve something we we will hear more about towards the end: he will come to the point where he must die to himself and trust only in what God will do out of His love. And that’s the gospel, right there, hundreds of years before Christ — but let’s hear the story excerpted from 2 kings chapter 5.
Naaman was the commander of the army of the king of Aram, a great man, a valiant soldier and highly regarded; but he had leprosy.
A young girl from Israel taken captive in a raid who served Naaman’s wife said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
The king of Israel read the letter, tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Why does this fellow send me someone to be cured of leprosy? He is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
When Elisha heard about this, he sent the king a message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.”
So Naaman went, in a procession of horses and chariots, and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.
Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”*
But Naaman turned and went off in a rage, saying: “Are not… the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed? I thought that he would come out, and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.”
Naaman’s servants, who had heard the promise of his flesh being restored, respectfully counselled him: “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
And Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God and said, “Now I know that there is no God except in Israel.”
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15 excerpted
Pride is a barrier. It stops us perceiving God, and pride was evident in King Joram and also in his self-important visitor, Naaman. Elisha gets wind of the visit and the king’s confusion, and tells him to send the visitor on to him. But Naaman gets off on the wrong foot entirely, turning up in a grand procession of chariots and attendants and demanding attention. You may recall a verse at the other end of the Bible reminding us that God is no respecter of persons. He doesn’t count wealth, status or even intellect but looks on the heart to see what we are like inside.
Lesson number one for Naaman’ was that God – and for that matter God’s prophet – would not submit to him, but he needed to submit to God. And with some respectful help from his staff, he decides to do as he has been instructed and dip himself seven times in the river Jordan. Seven is symbolic of completeness. He needed to give his need and his condition over to God completely. And as he did, he discovered something else.
Lesson number two was that God, who is no respecter of persons, also shows no discrimination in His merciful love. He turns the familiar values of the world upside down with a love that reaches out to those who don’t know Him at all!
About 200 years later, we see another example of God seeking to work in the hearts of lives of those who do not know him. This time it is about the southern kingdom of Judah where most people have been forcibly deported to Babylon and Jeremiah, one of the few allowed to remain, now has an important word from God for the exiles.
God wasn’t about to reverse the disaster — He made it clear that he had brought on them — but he would use them where they were over the next two generations. They were to settle and prosper in this pagan land. The really shocking part of this word was instructing them to pray God’s prosperity and blessing on their pagan masters — for the mutual benefit of both.
The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter from Jerusalem to the surviving elders, priests and others among the exiles Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, saying: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters — increase in number there.
‘Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ “
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 excerpted
We see these prayers fulfilled in the stories of Daniel and his friends, and how he became chief minister despite threats on his life. Similarly in Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai exposing the plot to exterminate the Jews. Then Nehemiah is supported in returning to resettle Jerusalem. Those prayers changed a national intention!
Our lesson is to take notice of this pattern and priority. It is still the foundation of the Great Commission Jesus has given us today to reach out to others who do not yet know Him.
Jesus said that His call was to the “lost sheep of Israel” but we see His love flowing out to others — including Samaritans who most Jews avoided and disliked.
Jesus, making his way towards Jerusalem, is led by God to follow a circuitous route on the border of Samaria where He meets a group of men who hail him from afar. It’s not a good sign. Judged unclean and unfit to live in the villages, they share the lonely existence of outcasts; they need healing from the same kind of skin disease as the mighty Naaman. It turns out that not all of them are Jewish “lost sheep”. What is Jesus going to do now? Let’s hear the story from Luke 17:
Jesus was travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee on His way to Jerusalem. Entering a village, ten men who had leprosy stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When He saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him — and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then He said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19 excerpted
This is the gospel. It’s about Jesus and about God’s nonjudgemental mercy shown in Jesus, who is the perfect representation of God, the Father. We want to know what God is like – watch Jesus. In a situation where He will be absolutely expected to discriminate, he doesn’t, and He blesses the Samaritan recovered man, with the life of the kingdom of God, not just freedom from disease.
Where we often go wrong is taking Good News, God’s grace that comes to us through Jesus, and putting it in a box with our conditions — a version of ‘Join us and you may share our privilege’. But it’s not our! We need reminding that God’s word of freedom is for any and all, NOT with strings attached — or with chains, as Paul bluntly puts it.
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained, that they too may obtain eternal salvation in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him.
If we disown Him, He will also disown us, but He remains faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.
Keep reminding God’s people of these things and warn them against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:8-15 excerpted
“Remember Jesus Christ – this is my gospel”. The good news is about Jesus and our choice to welcome His rule and reign in our lives.Believing in our ‘churchianity’ doesn’t save us. We’re not part of a club with its own exclusive membership and privileges. Jesus died to save us from the death caused by our sin. He rose to life, to show us new life in Him. He saves and gives life to those who ask Him into their hearts — not those that meet our criteria for membership.
One of the best known verses in the Bible is John 3:15-16 which teach that everyone who believes in Jesus, the Son of God, will have eternal life — God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son Jesus Christ so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
When we ‘get’ the breadth and extent of this love, we start to ‘get’ where God is coming from.
He reaches out beyond Himself because He has this heart of love for those who are alienated from Him. And He asks us to reach out with love, too.