2 Kings 5:14 – 17
This Sunday, we will hear from the Second Book of Kings. 1 and 2 Kings are among the Historical Books of the Bible. Along with 1 and 2 Samuel, they record the activities of Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon, as well as many of the kings of the divided kingdom after Solomon. Originally, 1 and 2 Samuel formed a single book. The LXX (the oldest Greek version of the Old Testament, traditionally said to have been translated by 70 or 72 Jewish scholars at the request of Ptolemy II; most scholars believe that only the Pentateuch was completed in the early part of the 3rd century B.C. and that the remaining books were translated in the next two centuries) divided it into two books, titling it 1 and 2 Kingdoms; the present-day 1 and 2 Kings were labeled 3 and 4 Kingdoms. The Vulgate referred to them as 1, 2, 3 and 4 Regnorum – Kingdoms – as well, but this title was eventually abbreviated to Regum – Kings.
A great crisis occasioned the writing of 1 and 2 Kings. In 587BC, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, finally breached the walls of Jerusalem with his army after a 10-year siege. He destroyed the city, burned the Temple of Solomon to the ground and deported those who remained in the city to Babylon. But, God had promised his eternal care over Israel and the Davidic household. How could God be said to be faithful to his covenant promises? How could Israel still believe in the divine promise that the Davidic dynasty would perdure forever? These are the questions the exiles asked themselves. The two books of Kings address these questions, showing how God remained faithful to both his promises and threats (cf. Ex 20:2 – 6; Dt 28:15 – 19; 49 – 69).
The last event narrated in 2 Kings – the preferential treatment that the Babylonian King Evil-merodach accorded Jehoiakin – occurs around 562BC. And, since there is no mention of a return from the Exile, which occurred after 539BC, most scripture scholars conclude that 1 and 2 Kings was written between those dates. It is impossible to determine where the books were written, either in Palestine among the remnant remaining there or in Babylonia. The purpose of the books is to instruct and encourage the Jewish people during this very difficult time. The author instructs the people about the infidelity of Israel to the covenant, and the continuing fidelity of God. It was they, and not God, who had been unfaithful. The author also encourages the people by returning to the covenant promises, assuring the reader that the promises have never been annulled. Israel can place her hope in her future.
It must be understood that the author is primarily a theologian, not a historian. This is demonstrated so clearly by the fact that two of the most important kings of Israel – Omri and Jeroboam II – are given only 15 verses. He uses history to develop a number of theological propositions: the importance of the Temple, the observance of the covenant, and the reforms of religion.
The reading we hear this Sunday can be best understood within the context of the comparison between Elijah (865 – 850BC), the great prophet whom we first encounter in 1 Kings 17:1, and Elisha (850 – 800BC), who succeeds him. Elijah is seen as the prophet who countered Ahab and the prophets of Baal. Elisha shunned Israel and performed miracles among the Arameans. The reading we hear on Sunday is part of the story of the miraculous cure of Naaman the Aramean. Let’s read the entire account, beginning with 1 Kings 5.
14 So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
15 He returned with his whole retinue to the man of God. On his arrival he stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.”
16 “As the LORD lives whom I serve, I will not take it,” Elisha replied; and despite Naaman’s urging, he still refused.
17 Naaman said: “If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth, for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to the LORD.
Two mule-loads of earth: Israelite earth on which to erect in Aram an altar to the God of Israel. The people of the time believed that gods ruled over particular lands, and Naaman wanted to make the God of Israel feel at home in Damascus, where Naaman lived.
Notice how Naaman wants to show his gratitude and how Elisha rejects it. Why would Elisha reject the tokens of gratitude? Perhaps, it was because he did not want to give the impression that he had affected the cure.
It is the curing of a leper, and one who is not from Israel, that makes this story a good introduction to the Gospel passage we will hear on Sunday.
Luke 17:11 – 19
This week, we continue to hear from Luke’s Gospel, picking up right where we left off last week. This pericope is found only in Luke, and is consistent with Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ coming to save all people, especially the marginalized and the Gentiles. We see Luke report another cure of a leper in 5:12 – 15. And, we see other cures of lepers in Matthew 8:2 and Mark 1:40. Modern medical scholarship has concluded that leprosy was not a disease that was found in the Middle East at this time so it is probably some other skin disease, such as psoriasis, that is being described here. The account we will hear on Sunday is unique, however, since it includes a Samaritan. As you will notice in your footnote for 17:11-19, this incident recounting the thankfulness of the cleansed Samaritan provides an instance of Jesus holding up a non-Jew (Luke 17:18) as an example to his Jewish contemporaries (cf. Luke 10:33 where a similar purpose is achieved in the story of the good Samaritan). Moreover, it is the faith in Jesus manifested by the foreigner that has brought him salvation (Luke 17:19; cf. the similar relationship between faith and salvation in Luke 7:50; 8:48, 50).
11 As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
Through Samaria and Galilee: or, “between Samaria and Galilee.” Here, we see Jesus deliberately entering Samaritan territory. Observant Jews would avoid this region due to the animosity between Jew and Samaritan but the Bible records Jesus purposely encountering – or attempting to encounter these people. You will recall that, in Lk 9:53, Jesus’ disciples were rejected because Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Yet, in Lk 10:29-36, we hear Jesus hold up a Samaritan as the good neighbor and in this passage, it is a Samaritan leper who returns to Jesus, glorifying God.
In John’s gospel, we discover another similar encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan (cf. Jn 4:5 – 42). This encounter also brings Samaritans to believe in Jesus.
12 As he was entering a village, ten lepers met (him). They stood at a distance from him
13 and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
14 And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed.
show yourselves to the priests: See the note on Luke 5:14 and Lv 14:2ff.
15 And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
returned: just as Naaman had done in this Sunday’s first reading.
16 and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.
Thanked: the Greek word “ευχαριστον” used here is the root for the recent name given to the Mass – Eucharist – and has an Old Testament background that includes “to give glory.” It is in this sense of giving thanks that the foreigner returns (cf. v. 18).
17 Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?
18 Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
19 Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
your faith has saved you: Literally, Jesus says to the Samaritan: “your faith has delivered or made you whole.” Once again, we see that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ merciful acts is not to cure us of our earthly illnesses; it is to save and make us whole.
2 Timothy 2:8 – 13
We hear another section from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Let’s read the footnote: The section begins with a sloganlike summary of Paul’s gospel about Christ (2 Tim 2:8) and concludes with what may be part of an early Christian hymn (2 Tim 2:11b-12a; most exegetes include the rest of 2 Tim 2:12 and all of 2 Tim 2:13 as part of the quotation). The poetic lines suggest that through baptism Christians die spiritually with Christ and hope to live with him and reign with him forever, but the Christian life includes endurance, witness, and even suffering, as the final judgment will show and as Paul’s own case makes clear; while he is imprisoned for preaching the gospel (2 Tim 2:9), his sufferings are helpful to the elect for obtaining the salvation and glory available in Christ (2 Tim 2:10), who will be true to those who are faithful and will disown those who deny him (2 Tim 2:12-13).
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my gospel,
9 for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.
10 Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory.
11 This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him;
12 if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
If we are unfaithful he remains faithful: By his very nature of being True, God is incapable of being unfaithful.
The readings teach that God loves everyone and He wants everyone to benefit from the healing power of His love and be grateful for it.