Skip to main content

The Challenge to Be Different

2 Kings 5.1-16, Luke 10.1-20
Our two Bible readings today are about people who were prepared to break the rules of their society in order to do what they felt was necessary. Naaman was persuaded by his wife’s slave girl to go on a madcap mission to see the famous Israelite prophet, Elisha.  Fortunately, he enjoyed the high favour of his master, the king of Syria, who was only too happy to write him letters of safe conduct. To him this seemed like an example of positive rule breaking. Normally he wouldn’t expect his generals to fraternise with the enemy but, on this occasion, only positive change could come of it.
To the king of Israel, however, the mission seemed to be a devious attempt to pick a quarrel and reopen the festering conflict between the two countries. But then Elisha heard about Naaman and recognised that God sometimes uses rule breakers, or unconventional methods, to achieve his own greater good. So for example, the editor of the story - following Elisha’s example - notes that God has previously used Naaman to give victory to Syria over Israel, and now he was using him to demonstrate that, nevertheless, there was a mighty prophet in Israel.
But Elisha also had the last laugh in the story. He didn’t come out to meet the great man. Instead he sent a messenger to tell Naaman that, in order to be healed, he must strip naked and go and swim around in a dirty stream. It was beneath Naaman’s dignity to do this and he was already heading for home before his servants managed to persuade him to change his mind and break one more teeny tiny rule. Just because generals don’t usually splash about in muddy water, that doesn’t mean there aren’t sometimes good reasons to flout the rule.  
The Bible goes on to tell the related contrasting story of Elisha’s own servant, Gehazi, whose rule breaking was destructive and deceitful and who ended up by reaping the just reward for that kind of negative rule breaking.
Jesus’ disciples were challenged to engage in a different kind of rule breaking. They were to give up their ordinary ways of making a living for a while in order to go throughout the land preparing people for Jesus’ imminent arrival. But, in a striking departure from the normal rules for running an effective mission, they were to take no resources with them - no spare clothes, no spare sandals, not even any money. Instead they were to rely entirely on receiving hospitality from the strangers they visited. And they were to travel with such urgency that there wouldn’t even be time for the normal civilised greetings to be exchanged when they met a fellow traveller on the road. This is fairly trivial rule breaking at one level, but it also seems a rather unnecessary challenge to convention.
In contrast, the towns they visited were confronted with a different kind of challenge, of a totally different order of magnitude. The visit of these missionaries might have seemed unimportant, and their offer to help people prepare for Jesus’ coming might have seemed like a ‘take it or leave it’ sort of deal, but in fact it was a matter of life or death. To reject these disciples  was to become the ultimate rule breakers and to cross a line from which there would be no way back because the disciples would then shake the dust from their feet and, by implication, these towns would miss out when Jesus passed through that part of the country.
Jesus seems to be saying that compared to some of the things we get so excited about, observing the right dress code when we go out to a party or to a posh restaurant, deciding whether we’re for or against gay marriage, and even where we stand on human rights’ issues, the decision whether we are for or against Jesus is far more important, because it’s an apodictic rule. Jesus expects us to decide - in every age and every place - whether we are going to follow his agenda and be exalted in heaven, or  to reject his agenda and - ultimately - be brought low. Even when we run with the wolf pack, if we follow the rule of life laid down by the Lamb of God we need fear no evil, for the story ends with one final and memorable illustration of what it means to obey Jesus’ eternal command to be his disciples.  If we live by his rules within our family, at work, in our community and in our church, then even demons, snakes and scorpions will be unable to separate us from his love.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

True Love

Mark 12:28-34 In 1981 Prince Charles was put on the spot during a television interview with Lady Diana Spencer, his new fiancee. The interviewer asked them if they were in love. Lady Diana’s instant response was , ‘Of course!,’ but Prince Charles replied, ‘Whatever “in love” means.’ Now in case you think Prince Charles is just a bit of a cold fish, on National Poetry Day 2015 he read a poem on Radio 4, ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robbie Burns. I thought, ‘This is going to be a bit wooden,’ but I was wrong. He read the poem so movingly that Clarence House has made it available on YouTube and Twitter. Listening to him it was impossible to escape the conclusion that he now knows what being “in love” means. O my Love is like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: O my Love is like the melody, That's sweetly played in tune. As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in love am I; And I will love thee still, my dear, Till a' the seas gang dry. But what does being “in …

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…