Saturday, 2 July 2016

Take the Simple Way and Go Out.

The enduring power of scripture seems to rest simply in how well it captures human nature, blemishes and all. Naaman is a great man, a good soldier, and a favourite of the king. His one flaw— and it is major— is his affliction with leprosy, but there is hope. Word arrives of a prophet in Israel with the power to heal. The king sends Naaman to request healing from the king of Israel. Though the king is somewhat nonplussed, Elisha rallies and offers to heal Naaman. However, what Elisha offers is not what Naaman expects, so rather than being relieved and pleased at the simple instructions offered (wash in the Jordan seven times), Naaman is put out.

Naaman could be any one of us today! There is an old saying, “Why make a job easy, when you can make it hard?” Anyone faced with a Senate voting paper here in Australia (if you want to use your own thinking rather than a political parties) or income tax form or a job application is painfully familiar with how difficult we manage to make relatively easy procedures. But note in this story that the servants challenge Naaman’s attitude, reminding him that if Elisha demanded something outrageous and difficult, he probably would have done it without complaint. It was the simplicity of the prescription that caused Naaman distress.

There is a difficult way to be a Christian or a simple way. Note that simple does not mean easy. The difficult way is to pile up rules and laws and punishments and rituals and observances and hierarchies and make obedience the highest standard of conduct, all but guaranteeing failure and shame. The simple way is to hold one or two governing principles, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” and make grace and love your standards of conduct.

Yet another essential to finding God is the sense in which we need to leave home. We find in scripture many who did this and from this we find in scripture the instruction, don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt. Interesting to note as we today dismiss this plight of asylum seekers and allow our government to mistreat them on our behalf.

Jesus also includes homelessness in his stories— wandering sons, lost sheep, despised women— all are at home in the reign of God, he says. Look at the way in which the seventy were sent out in this week’s reading from Luke 10. He sends out the seventy to remain strangers everywhere. The kingdom is not a bucolic hobbit shire, where people occupy themselves with gardening and good food. Jesus is not teaching the humanness of Frodo. If Jesus is Gandalf, he is calling us to become Gandalf, too. Jesus belongs to those whose roots are lost in the chaos of history, those who arrived in places like Queensland and Fiji in chains as slaves, people who arrive on the shores of Australia in frail boats, the homeless who are in and out of rehab, the survivors of hell.

I have heard more than one priest or minister say to a congregation that Jesus didn’t really mean to disrupt home and family. I think we discredit him in this. His repeated outreach to those whose family life is already disrupted supports his words about discipleship. Even at Easter, he warns Magdalene not to cling to him. To belong to God requires leaving home. The unexpected and unknown presence of God will not be found according to the rules, or by the book, or in the customary places— or without fear, passion, deep prayer, or without strangers whom you find each day in unfamiliar places.

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