With the wonderful words “…O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor…[g]rant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection…through Jesus Christ our Lord,” today’s Collect provides an interpretative key to unlock our Lections. This prayer succinctly reminds us of our duties to God and to neighbor that witness to God’s Kingdom when reenacted in Holy Scripture as well as lived in the World. We should not be surprised that utter devotion to God uncovers the Divine imprint that points to the Divine plan: a pure affection that promises a harmonious union amongst the Creator, the Created, and all Creation.
In all of our readings, a clear theme emerges that following Christ and doing God’s will brings healing and hope that hallmark the Kingdom of God. Luke’s Gospel shares the indelible image of Jesus commissioning and sending the seventy with the warning that “…[t]he harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…” joined with the ultimate injunction of discipleship to “…[g]o on your way…” (10:2-3). The Apostle Paul paints a knowing picture of what said journey entails when he enjoins the Galatians to “…not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.…then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all…” (6:9-10). According to Luke, the Jesus Movement’s imperative was that “…[w]henever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you…cure the sick who are there, and say to them…The kingdom of God has come near to you…” (10:8-9). Echoing this empowering Emmanuel moment, Paul tells the Galatians that God being with us means that “…[t]hose who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher…” (6:6). Thus, like those very first Apostles and Disciples, we should also be passing along the Good News in thought, word, and deed. Rather than puffing up ourselves, the Lord instructs that we should not take joy in new found power, but “…rejoice that your names are written in heaven…” within the Book of Life (Luke 10:17-20). Accordingly, the bountiful harvest proclaimed needs the harvesters to work the mission fields so that it may be on earth as it is in heaven.
Regardless of the Old Testament track taken, the union of healing and hope brought about by God’s will manifests itself in the texts. Despite initial anger and misgivings, Naaman washes in the Jordan River seven times, as the prophet Elisha instructed, and is completely cured of leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14). The ritual cleansing not only foreshadows Baptism, but we also learn that a prophet of God’s Kingdom has been raised in Israel. If we go one verse beyond the Lection, then Naaman says “…[n]ow I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel…” as a proclamation of his new found faith (2 Kings 5:15). Fittingly, the portion of the Psalter appointed for today offers God the celebratory parallels “…you restored me to health…you restored my life…” and “…[y]ou have turned my wailing into dancing…you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy…” (30:2-3; 30:12). One almost finds the voice of Naaman indistinguishable from the Psalmist in a verse of adoration in the face of grace “…[t]herefore my heart sings to you without ceasing…O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever…” (30:13). The Prophet Isaiah rounds out the rich complex of images by describing the Lord’s intent to “…extend prosperity to [Jerusalem] like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream…as a mother comforts her child…” (66:12). Close readers will note that moral philosopher and proto economist Adam Smith borrowed from this verse for his famous book’s title to evoke God’s brimful abundance. In God’s Kingdom, Isaiah reassures us that “…your heart shall rejoice…your bodies shall flourish like the grass…” (66:14) and, likewise, the Psalmist invites us to “…[c]ome now and see the works of God…how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people…” (66:4). Both Jesus and Paul teach us that we are to bring God’s healing and hope to a desperate world, while Naaman provides a specific example of a freeing moment from bodily bondage that reveals the in-breaking Kingdom of God foretold by Isaiah and powered by the Indweller. Instead of a message just for ordinary time, the profound train of thought in today’s Scriptures is about nothing less than the wholeness that is the very heart of creation and its restoration in the Incarnate Word that ushers in God’s ultimate Rule as well as Reign.
Christopher Rodgers is a Postulant and a rising Middler at Virginia Theological Seminary who is doing his Clinical Pastoral Education as a Summer Chaplain at Children’s Medical Center Dallas