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The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Readings: 2 Kgs. 2:1–12, 1 Cor. 9:24–27 & Mk. 1:40–45.

As people, we all respond differently to the events and situations we experience in life.

Take the example of the story of the prophet Elisha healing Naaman of leprosy. In this story, we see the different responses of five characters to the events that unfold in the story.

First, we have the young Israeli girl, who was taken captive by the Arameans during one of their many regular raids on the people of Israel. And although she was obviously taken against her will, and was now a servant of Naaman’s wife, she didn’t sound bitter or depressed about her situation. Instead, she actually tried to help Naaman by telling his wife that Naaman could be healed of his leprosy, if he visited the prophet Elisha in Samaria, which was the capital city of Northern Israel at that time.

Contrast her response, with the response of the King of Israel, to the letter he received from the King of Aram, asking him to help heal Naaman. There had been ongoing tension between Israel and Aram during the ninth century BCE, as demonstrated by the raids on Israel that I’ve already mentioned. Jehoram (the King of Israel) believed that Ben–Hadad II (the King of Aram) was using hisrequest for Jehoram to help Naaman, as a ruse to start conflict between the two countries. Jehoram was greatly troubled by this request from Ben–Hadad, and was unsure of what he should do. He thought to himself, I can’t heal Naaman, I’m not God! So what did Jehoram do? He tore his clothes, which in those days, was a sign of frustration or hopelessness about one’s own particular circumstances.

Now when Elisha heard of Jehoram’s reaction, he calmly sent word to Jehoram telling the king to let Naaman come to him and be healed, so that the Arameans might then believe that Israel had a powerful prophet on its side, which might then be a deterrent to the Arameans causing any trouble in the future.

So Naaman came to Elisha’s house, expecting Elisha himself to come out and perform some elaborate act of healing. Instead, Elisha sent one of his servants to tell Naaman what to do; to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman was furious that Elisha had not treated him with the respect that he felt his position deserved, and he began to rant and rave about that lack of respect. One of Naaman’s own servants calmly spoke to Naaman, and persuaded him to do what Elisha had suggested. He eventually did so, and was completely healed of his leprosy.

So we have contrasting attitudes portrayed by the various characters in this story. The calm and faithful responses of the Israeli servant girl, Elisha, and Naaman’s own servant, all lead to a positive and productive outcome; compared with what would have happened if the responses of King Jehoram and Naaman had been allowed to go unchallenged.

Let’s now take a look at the story in our gospel reading this morning, which like the story of Naaman and Elisha, also relates to the healing of someone suffering from leprosy. In this story, we hear that a leper came to Jesus begging Jesus to heal him. We don’t hear exactly where Jesus was at the time, but we know from Mark’s Gospel that he was still somewhere in the region of Galilee, probably a day or two’s walk from the town of Capernaum.

The man came to Jesus with faith that Jesus could heal him. Jesus’ response was to have great compassion for the man, and to heal him. Strangely though, we heard that Jesus spoke sternly to the man, and warned him not to say anything to anyone about what Jesus had done for him, but to instead go and see the priest, and make arrangements for an offering to be made to God as prescribed in the Book of Leviticus.

Why would Jesus have spoken sternly to the man, and told him not to speak to anyone about what Jesus had done? Probably because of what Jesus experienced at Capernaum, after he healed Peter’s mother-in-law and all the other people who were brought to him suffering from various diseases and being possessed by demons. If you remember our gospel reading from two weeks ago; after Jesus had healed everyone, he went out into a deserted place by himself to pray. But Peter and the other disciples followed him, and told him that everyone in Capernaum was looking for him. The “crowding” that resulted, had prevented Jesus from carrying out the mission his Father had given him, which was to proclaim the gospel in all the synagogues in Galilee and to cast out demons.

Jesus was obviously concerned that if people found out he had healed the man with leprosy, then more people would come looking for him to heal them and others, which would again impact on the mission God had sent him on. But the man whom Jesus had healed, did not respect what Jesus told him. Instead, he went around telling anyone who would listen to him, so that the report of what Jesus had done for him spread everywhere, and Jesus soon found himself surrounded on all sides by people wanting him to heal them.

We can see from the different responses demonstrated by the various characters in these two readings this morning, that a person’s attitude has an enormous affect on how they respond to ‘life events’. Winston Churchill was quoted as saying:

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference”.

And another famous politician, Abraham Lincoln, put it this way:

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

In other words, it all depends on our perspective of the particular situation facing us.

The Apostle Paul, when writing to the church at Corinth, likened it to being in a race, where all of the runners compete, but where only one can win the prize. He encouraged the

Corinthians to have an attitude that would enable them to win the race. And of course the race he referred to, was a metaphor for a life of faith. He exhorted the Corinthians to live this life as though it were a race. And just as if they were athletes, preparing themselves for a race, exerting self-control over what they ate and drank, and building up their physical energy and strength through exercise, Paul told them they needed to exercise that same preparation in their daily spiritual lives.

They had to be disciplined when it came to issues related to bodily desires, and they had to be diligent in matters of faith. And perhaps more than important than anything else, they had to be focused on God. Giving thanks to God; worshiping and praising Him, had to be the most important aspect of their lives.

I wonder then, if we take a brief moment to reflect on Paul’s message to the Corinthians; how might this apply to our own lives today?

The Lord be with you.

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