2 Kings 5:1-14
From Abram’s initial call from Ur to the death and resurrection of King Jesus, Israel’s vocation was clear: Embody the light, goodness and justice of your God to every nation. Much of scripture, though, is spent explaining how Israel excelled in doing the opposite.
In this short vignette from 2 Kings, an unnamed slave girl takes this vocation seriously. Despite having been unjustly removed from the land that nourished and undoubtedly gave her a narrative of identity and belonging, she sought out good for Naaman, a man whose health she could have callously watched deteriorate. Instead of walking down a path of contempt, this girl walked down a path of compassion, pointing her pagan master toward the God of Israel, the God of life and wholeness. Despite Naaman’s mocking hesitation, the healing power of Israel’s God met him in the murky waters of the Jordan.
- The slave girl’s humble witness to the living God brought restoration to her oppressor. In every generation, there has been a remnant of wise, faithful people who have actively blessed their oppressors. What do you think their motivation was?
- What are ways we can bless those who oppress us?
- What does God’s healing of a gentile say about God’s nature?
The idea that the “God of the Old Testament” is different from the “God of the New Testament” is, at its very least, unhelpful. “Before Jesus,” the adage goes, “God was always angry. If you got on his bad side, he would smite you. If you messed up just a little bit, he was done with you.” Though that impression can be gained from various Old Testament stories, I’m not convinced the sentiment is accurate.
In this psalm attribute to King David, the psalmist acknowledges the presence of a dynamic, molten God. “I cried out to you for help, and you healed me,” the psalmist announced. In the psalmist’s theological universe, God was actively involved in the helplessness (v. 2), sorrow (v. 5), terror (v. 7), and celebration (v. 11) of life. This psalmist holds nothing back when it comes to honestly declaring his or her feelings before God. And I think it’s safe to suggest that God holds nothing back when engaging this person, or any of us, in every season of life.
- The Book of Psalms is a collection of songs that encompasses every facet of Israel’s devotional and liturgical life. If you were commissioned to write a psalm in this moment, what would it say? How honest would you be in its composition?
- Do you think God can handle your honesty?
One of the downsides of our modern, urbanized society is that much of scripture’s agrarian vocabulary is lost on us. As urban gardening becomes more common, hopefully we’ll be able to reclaim one of humanity’s most primal relationships: our relationship with the earth.
St. Paul, a man formed and rooted in an agrarian world had no issue using “planting” and “harvest” language. He saw the Christian life, and maybe the whole of creation, as an uncultivated plot of land, open to human interaction, longing for human care. In his letter to the Galatians, he contends that everyone is planting something. Those who sow out of selfishness will reap devastation, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit, the wise apostle said, will harvest eternal life from the Spirit (v. 8).
St. Paul challenges the Galatian Christians to evaluate what they are sowing into the world. He calls on the community of Christ to lay aside every form of selfishness and pride, embracing goodness and humility. This humility is rooted in the cross of Jesus, Israel’s long-awaited king. Paul even goes as far as to bind himself to boast in nothing “except the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14). This boasting, this sowing, this work of love, is completely consumed in God’s loving act in Christ on the cross for the sake of the world. In Jesus’ crucifixion, the body of Christ is crucified to the whole world and is delivered into a new creation. And this new creation is all that matters (v. 15).
- St. Paul compares the Christian life to sowing and harvesting. If he were writing today, what sort of metaphors do you think he’d use?
- What is “God’s Israel,” spoken of in verse 16?
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Every day, followers of Christ pray that God’s kingdom will come “on earth as it is in heaven.” But just how does this happen? Is it through legislative victories or sales at discount stores? Does it come when the people we like “win,” and people we dislike “lose”? Does it come only on 70-degree days in April, or is it possible that God’s reign can break through in the dark, cold evenings of December?
In this gospel reading, Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples in pairs to announce to Israel’s villages that “God’s kingdom has come to you” (v. 11). In their almost baggage-less traveling, Jesus’ disciples were given orders to simply eat food wherever they were offered it.
This going where Jesus directed and doing as he commanded took an immense amount of trust. He didn’t give much more instruction other than to leave the communities that did not welcome the announcement of God’s reign. When the 72 disciples returned from their excursion, they were ecstatic. “Demons are submitting to us!” they said. Jesus, unimpressed, encourages them to rejoice that their names are “written in heaven” (v. 20).
- This “written in heaven” phrase troubled me at first glance. My Protestant mind cannot fathom a Jesus who rewards his followers with heaven when they do what he tells them to do. But after further thought, I am inclined to think that this experiment in evangelism is actually heaven itself. In their receiving of bread in strange homes and exchanging of stories and giving of good news, the 72 experienced heaven. That’s all that heaven is, right? Sharing, learning, and delighting in others and in God?
- In what ways have you possibly missed out on heaven in the last week?