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Wrestling with the Word, episode 8: Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B (Feb. 15, 2009) January 26, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Think of the words “comedy,” “community,” and “communication.” The stories of the healing of lepers in Mark 1:40-45 and 2 Kings 5:1-14 take on special meaning when we realize that when a person in the ancient world was declared to have leprosy, that person was destined to live alone, away from the company of other people. The laws in Leviticus 13—14 describe the examination by the priest, the resultant abandonment of the person from the community, and the means by which the person could be declared clean once again and restored to the community. The Psalm for the day brings us into the world of one who has felt cut off from the community and from God but now announces joy and thanksgiving over God’s healing.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 8: Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B.


2 Kings 5:1-14
God provides knowledge of himself to those outside the community of faith through the words of people and, above all, through the divine word itself.

Receiving the cloak of succession from Elijah, the prophet Elisha followed his mentor until that day when the whirlwind took Elijah up to heaven (2 Kings 2:-12). As evidence of his succession, Elisha performed at the outset many of the same acts as the predecessor, including the miracle of the abundance of oil out of small beginnings, the raising from the dead the son of the Shunamite woman, and the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Furthermore, like his master, his miracles and ministry extended beyond Israelites to include the Gentiles.

Key Words
V. 1. “by him the Lord had given victory to Syria”: The extension of the Lord’s power reaches beyond the boundaries of Israel by this gift of victory to a commander of a non-Israelite army—whether he knew it or not. In the future, the Lord will use Nebuchadrezzar, King of Babylon as “my servant” (see Jer. 25:9 and elsewhere) and Cyrus, king of Persia, as “my shepherd” (Isa. 44:28 ) and “my anointed”… “though you do not know me” (Isa, 45:1, 5). That Naaman came to know the name of the Lord is clear from his response to Elisha’s instruction at v. 11.

V. 7. ha’elōhîm ‘ānî lehāmît ûlehachayôt = “Am I god, to kill and to make alive,…?”: The view that God was responsible for both life and death is attested several times in the Old Testament. In the Song of Hannah both weal and woe are the responsibility of the Lord who “kills and brings to life” (1 Sam. 2:6). In addition, the familiar words of Job ring out here: “the Lord gave, and the Lord had taken away” (Job 1:21).

V. 8. weyēda‘ kî yēš nābî’ beyisrā’ēl = “that he may know there is a prophet in Israel”: (1) The expression “that (someone) may know” appears in the story of the exodus (Exod. 9:14; 10:2) and in the promises of the return from Babylon (cf. Ezek. 35:9; 36:11; 37:14); through the Lord’s action for salvation or for judgment, others will come to know who he is. (2) What it takes to know there is a prophet is quite different at Ezekiel 33:33 where the Lord promises such awareness when the people ignore the prophecies.

V. 14. kidebar ’iš hā’elōhîm wayyāšob besārō kibesar na‘ar qātōn wayyithar = “… according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean”: In the Deuteronomistic history, events of various sorts occur “according to the word of the Lord” (see 1 Kings 8:20; 12:15; 15:29; 16:12; 2 Kings 1:17; 23:16-18; 24:2). While the verb tāhar = “to be clean” often denotes ceremonial or ritual purity (e.g., Lev. 14:20, 53), it refers here to the physical cleansing of leprosy.


Psalm 30
In spite of the initial words that attribute the psalm to the occasion of purification of the Jerusalem Temple in 165 B.C., the psalm is an individual thanksgiving in response to an individual lament. Verses 6-10 articulate the lament and the situation in which the worshiper, even though the worshiper alludes to it in summary form in verses 1-3: troubled by enemies, the psalmist cried to the Lord for help, even from the depths of Sheol, and the Lord heard and healed. In verses 6-10 the lament is described in more detail. Because of the psalmist’s arrogance over prosperity, the Lord hid away (see Pss. 10:1; 27:9; 55:1; 104:21), a truly “lamentable” situation. In response to the cries for the Lord’s help/strength, the Lord dressed up the petitioner for a new occasion—party clothes instead of mourning garments. In response to this divine response, the psalmist, unable to remain silent (v. 12), encourages the faithful ones gathered in the temple to join in the praises and thanksgivings (v. 4).


1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Having freed us from the power of sin and the condemnation of the law by baptism into Christ’s death, God calls us to live out our new identity through the way we lives our lives.

Paul continues to address questions raised in a letter from the Corinthian congregation. In the immediately preceding paragraphs, he has written about the tension between freedom and responsibility, all in service to the law of Christ and the preaching of the gospel.

Key Words
V. 25. pas de ho agōnizomenos panta egkryteuetai = “Every athlete practices self-control in all things”: Paul uses the word for self-control for the unmarried at 7:9; there also he is establishing limits of freedom. At Gal. 5:23 such “self-control” is one of the fruits of the Spirit. At 2 Peter 1:6 such self-control is the supplement to knowledge.

V. 25 hēmeis de aphtharton = “but we an imperishable”: the same adjective describes the resurrected body at 1 Cor. 15:32 and the resurrection inheritance at 1 Peter 1:4.


Mark 1:40-45
Responding to the plea from the man with leprosy to make him clean, Jesus heals him for restoration to the community through the practice prescribed in the Mosaic law.

Jesus has been proclaiming in word and deed the message that the reign of God has come near. He has been calling a new community, exorcizing Satan’s army of unclean spirits, and healing the sick—all signs that the day of the Lord has begun..

Key Words
V. 40. “a leper”: Whether the man had leprosy as we know it today or a skin disease of some other sort, he was regarded as one who was unclean. The “medical” examination, conducted by the priest, determined the diagnosis (Lev. 13). If the priest declared him unclean, the leper had to live alone, banished from the community. The leper even had to announce “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever other people came near (Lev. 13:45-46). Shakespeare’s Romeo (in the play Romeo and Juliet) probed the depths of his sentence to banishment.

V. 41. kai splagchnistheis = “and moved with pity”: Jesus’ response of compassion to those who come to him for healing is evident also in Mark at 6:34 (Matt. 9:36) and 8:2; at 9:22 the word is used in a petition by the father of a young boy possessed of a demon.

v. 44. alla hypage seauton deixon tō hierei kai prosenegke peri tou katharismou sou ha prosetaxen Mōusēs, eis martuyrion autois = “but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as witness to them”: The rather detailed law for the protocol that led to atonement and restoration to the community is described at Lev. 14:2-32.

V. 45. ho de exelthōn ērxato kēryssein polla kai diaphēmizein ton logon = “And going out, he began to announce/preach loudly and to spread the word widely”: The miracle of the leper’s healing compelled him to express his praise and thanks in words to the communities to which he was restored, much like the healed person of Psalm 30.