Bible Study, 6 Epiphany (B) – February 12, 2012

Discussion Leader: Jordan Haynie, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” (Mark 1:40-42)

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30 ; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

Welcome to this week’s online Bible study. Please join in the conversation. If you find you don’t have time to go over all the readings, please simply consider the following verses from this week’s scripture:

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2 Kings 5:1-14  (New Revised Standard Version)

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.
2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.
3 She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’
4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.
5 And the king of Aram said, ‘Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.’
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.
6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.’
7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’

8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’
9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.
10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’
11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!
12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage.
13 But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’
14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jordan Haynie:

So often, when faced with the poverty and oppression in the world, we are tempted to throw up our hands. It’s too difficult – where would we even begin? This story reminds us that often God calls us to find simple solutions to immediate problems. We can’t all be Mother Theresa and dedicate our lives to the care of lepers, but we can all donate blood, for example, or serve at a local soup kitchen, or advocate for better healthcare for the poor. Rather than be overwhelmed with all the problems in this world, let us wash in the Jordan seven times, and seek a simple solution to an immediate problem to become clean.

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Psalm 30 (Book of Common Prayer, p 621)

1   I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

2   O LORD my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health.

3   You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

4   Sing to the LORD, you servants of his;
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

5   For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye,
his favor for a lifetime.

6   Weeping may spend the night,
but joy comes in the morning.

7   While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed.
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

8   Then you hid your face,
and I was filled with fear.

9   I cried to you, O LORD;
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,

10  “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit?
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

11  Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me;
O LORD, be my helper.”

12  You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

13  Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jordan Haynie:

What makes you exalt in the Lord? For what deliverances in this life are you most thankful?

How will you express your thanks to God? With dancing and song? With service to others? With joy in the morning?

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1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (New Revised Standard Version)

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.
25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one.
26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air;
27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jordan Haynie:

How do you prepare for an important task such as a race? What practices are important to get ready? Do you think that punishing your body is helpful training or needless effort?

What is our imperishable crown? How do we know when we have obtained it? Can we ever stop running the race in this lifetime?

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Mark 1:40-45 (New Revised Standard Version)

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’
41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’
42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once,
44 saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’
45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jordan Haynie:

Unlike Elisha, Jesus does not prescribe a ritual, easy or difficult, for the leper. He just heals him, immediately. I admit that I struggle with this story, because I know so many who suffer who are not immediately healed. Why does Jesus choose to make this man clean, but not so many others who feel unclean or are shunned by society? And why does He tell the leper to keep it a secret? Wasn’t He sent to proclaim good news to the poor? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am comforted by the fact that our God walked among us and knew real suffering. He healed real sufferers. He hears the cries of the needy. And even though I can’t explain why some people are healed and others are not, it helps to know that Jesus has been down this road before, and is here with us too.

Comments

  1. COMMENTS FROM THE RCL BIBLE STUDY ARCHIVES

    Ben Maimon, February 12, 2009:
    (2 Kings 5:1-14) The tale of Naaman’s healing by Elisha is a tale well told. In the OT reading in 2Kings 5:1-14 we have irony, suspense and a telling plot twist. The great man is saved by a slave girl. The King garbles the letter and the correspondent king becomes frightened. Elisha gets gossip of the problem and steps forward. The great man balks at the offhanded cure and has to be talked into it by more slaves. He finally realizes he is cured and reacts lavishly.

    The Syrian king asks the Isrealite king to do the healing, when the Isrealite slave girl said it was the prophet. This frightens the Isrealite king. why? Could there be a subtext implicit akin to the “King’s Evil”, a term for scrofula, or struma. This was a disease, now thought to be caused by lymphatic tuberculosis. As early as Roman times this was considered cured by the king’s touch. It is not the same as leprosy but in Davidic times perhaps there was less scrupulosity in diagnosis. In Levitical times leprosy was considered to be a skin disease as well as a mold on clothing or houses.

    (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) The Corinthians passage comes after Paul has talked about his efforts to mediate between the “strong” and the “weak” and how he has tried not to offend anyone. He finally says that he has tried to be all things to all people, then he adds our pericope on asceticism.

    The garlands he speaks of were wreaths of herbs, traditionally laurel but somehow I feel that they were bay leaves. Is that a kind of laurel? A E Houseman said,”And early though the laurel grows / It withers quicker than the rose.” At any rate the word Paul uses is stephanon, a crown which may mean a wreath or prize. He then distinguishes between the athlete’s short-lived crown and the transcendent incorruptible crown.

    (Mark 1:40-45) In Mark, we see Jesus trying to spread his gospel and do healing as well. One of the first healings is a leper who thanks our Lord by making his gospel preaching harder. This story is mentioned almost verbatim in each of the synoptic gospels, and can be profitably viewed as a synopsis of Christ’s ministry on earth. Jesus touched the leper. The leper was healed but Jesus was ritually defiled by touching the leper. He took the leper’s leprosy as he has taken our sin.

    The word Mark uses for pity is splanchnistheis, a root used in anatomy for bowels, as for instance the splanchnic artery which supplies the small intestine. It is akin to the poetic term, “bowels of compassion.” This sort of reference is awkward in today’s speech to our loss. I can’t find any reference to any connection to “angry.”

    Kenneth Brown, February 15, 2009:

    (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) The stephanon (or garland) was usually composed of olive leaves or ivy in the games while wreaths symbolized military victories.

    (Mark 1:40-45) Splgchnistheis (Anglicized since I don’t type Greek) is the word translated “pity” and/or “anger”. It means to be deeply moved emotionally at your “gut” level which refers to “noble” viscera (as in heart, lungs etc.) and is often translated as “compassion”. In the Gospels it is only used of our Lord except for Luke 10:33.

    Verse 45 — Jesus has already been preaching according to Mark 1: 14-15.

  2. The wonderful picture Mark paints tells us much about the human Jesus. There is some discussion in previous comments about the single Greek verb, splachnisthes, that stands for “moved with pity.” Even in modern Greek we use the word splachno when we speak of our children. “Splachno mou,” we say to a child as English speakers might say, “My heart!” It is a powerful word that reflects not only emotion but a visceral reaction. Jesus felt the pity in his own body; this is how moved he was. This word gives me so much comfort. To be able to suffer with someone in our own body offers a healing quality to the person we are comforting. We may not be able to offer cure, but we too participate in the act of healing. In Mark we see the Incarnation in all its human glory.

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