From a reading for Oct. 10, 28th Sunday of the year
'He returned to Elisha with all his men and said, "Now I know there is no god but the God of Israel"'...II Kings 5:15


Though Sunday's Gospel leper-healing narrative is well-known, our II Kings account could be more theologically significant.

Luke's passage (17:11-19) needs little explanation. Ten lepers ask Jesus for pity; all are healed, but only one returns to thank Him and everyone remembers the thankful one is a hated Samaritan.

Scripture scholars disagree about this story's origins. Some think the narrative began as an actual miracle story; others contend it has roots in a parable Jesus told about gratitude, which, in being orally transmitted, was transformed into a miracle story.

Either way, the reason Luke included it in his Gospel is clear: most of us are experts in petitioning God for favors, but we're not very good at thanking God when the favors are granted.

Because Elisha's cure of Naaman's leprosy (II Kings 5:14-17) is more nuanced, there are several points we should explore.

Naaman's not only a Gentile, he's also a Syrian army commander, the leader of a military force which often threatens Israel's security. The Israelite king hesitates even to permit him to enter the country, fearing the Syrians will interpret the prophet's possible inability to heal their commander's leprosy as an insult, a provocation to begin hostilities against his people.

God's actions
Though, as we hear in Sunday's passage, Yahweh is able to change the leper's flesh into "the flesh of a little child," Naaman almost dead-ends the healing process when he initially rejects the prophet's command to bathe seven times in the Jordan.

He's expecting a dramatic gesture to bring about his cure. It's degrading for a person of his stature to engage in such a common action, the actions in which Yahweh normally works in our lives.

Elisha refuses to accept even the smallest gift from Naaman. Elisha doesn't regard himself as being the person who healed Naaman. Yahweh's the healer; the prophet's just Yahweh's agent.

If Elisha accepts a stipend, he, not God, will be looked at as the healer. (Later, we find out what horrible thing happens to Gehazi, the prophet's servant, who tricks Naaman into giving him a gift.)

Perhaps the most interesting part of the passage is the Syrian's request for "two mule-loads of earth" to take back to Damascus. This request makes sense to the original readers.

At this point in salvation history, Yahweh's not yet looked upon as a universal god. Like all gods of the period, the God of Israel is territorial. Yahweh's power extends only to Israel's borders.

If Naaman now wants "to offer holocausts and sacrifices" to Yahweh, he'll have to do it on Israelite dirt. Yahweh has no obligation (or power) to respond to prayers uttered on any other soil.

He's everywhere
We realize how far our theology of God's presence has evolved when we hear our II Timothy (2:8-13) reading. The Pauline disciple responsible for this writing quotes from an early Christian hymn:

"If we have died with him we shall rise with him....If we are faithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself."

We're no longer concerned with the geographic places in which God is present; now, we're speaking about the people in whom God is present. The author's "unchained Word of God" leads us to go beyond the faith borders we create for ourselves.

On the other hand, Naaman and Elisha would be amazed to discover there are representatives of certain religions who accept stipends and "stole fees" today. Obviously, they've never heard of Gehazi.