Thursday, October 7, 2010

Breaking Boundaries--Thoughts for the 10th

Moving right along, I am guest-preaching this coming weekend at a nearby church in Lincoln. As I mentioned earlier, this church will be using the lectionary texts, and are having a “Women in Ministry” Sunday. Essentially, this means that all parts of the service will be facilitated by women (except presiding at the table since the available ordained people at this church are men).

At first, I was a bit nervous about preaching a faithful and contextually relevant sermon. However, both the Gospel and Old Testament texts this week contain stories in which very unexpected people are lifted up as examples of faith. This would lend itself to celebrating the boundaries that have been dismissed as well as looking to ones that may still need to be.

In the Gospel pericope, the Samaritan is the one leper who turns back to thank Jesus for his healing. Earlier in Luke, Jesus had referenced the story of Naaman (this week’s First Reading) as the foreigner who acknowledged Elisha as a prophet and was healed. While these selections have complementary themes, I think my focus might lean towards the lesson from 2 Kings 5.

Simply looking at this text from 2 Kings becomes confusing when trying to figure out who is 'in' or 'out.' As the situation and context change for the people mentioned, so does their perceived status. A quick attempt to attach such labels might look like this:

Naaman himself is a commander in the Syrian army (insider), but is a leper (outsider). In his house is an Israelite maid (outsider in Syria) who serves his wife and tells them of a prophet in Israel (where she is an insider). Naaman goes to Israel (as an outsider), bringing a letter from the king of Syria (where he is an insider), which makes the king of Israel think that the demand to cure leprosy is a trap intended to start a quarrel with Syria. He remembers the prophet Elisha (insider), and sends Naaman there. Elisha does not come out to greet Naaman, but orders him from afar to go wash (treated as outsider). Naaman is offended by this treatment (outsider thinking he should be an insider), but does what is asked with the encouragement of his servants. He is healed (insider), and goes to thank Elisha and praise God (acknowledging his place as a person for whom the boundaries have been broken).

The intricate complexities of this story mirror those of our modern society. When we start thinking about who is “in” or “out,” we almost inevitably set ourselves up for a shock. Both the Old Testament and Gospel texts seem to be advocating a sort of breaking down of those social boundaries. I will be interested to see how the commentaries address these issues.


  1. Great exposition of the text from Kings! I like the way you break down the complicated categories of being inside and outside. Do you think honor and shame also play in to the dynamics of the text?

  2. That's a really good point! That system would play a major role for many of the characters--to the point that Naaman has to give up some of his status (or honor) in order to be truly honored by being healed. I almost wonder if one could read 'honor' or 'shame' in the place of 'outsider' and 'insider.'