Last month I attended a gathering of church leaders called UNCO. It’s a completely open space conference where, instead of going to receive information, we bring the content.
One of the conversations I had was with Hugh Hollowell, pastor and director of Love Wins Ministries (no affiliation with Rob Bell. Hugh had it first). We were talking about non-violence as a way of speaking truth to power. He said that, unlike other faiths, Christianity actually calls us into conflict with power. Jesus entered a world full of exploited victims, then empowered them through peace to stop being victims. If we are going to follow Jesus Christ all the way (as our gospel last week challenged us to do), then our lives will be lived in direct conflict with oppression.
The tale of the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings is another of my favourites. I love the peaceful authority of Elisha. Elisha will not let Naaman’s military authority intimidate him into treating the commander like anyone else than a child of God in need of healing. Sometimes, our task is to force the powers that be to recognize they are not above the law or humanity. This was the accomplishment of the Occupy movement. As its international profile seems to have been quieted, local movements are popping up all over. And their message lingers. No corporation, no government, no agency has a divine right to use the law or money to exploit others. We often assume the servant girl spoke to Naaman’s wife only out of concern for her commander. Perhaps she knew exactly what Naaman would encounter in meeting “the prophet who is in Samaria”.
The psalm expresses the joy of one who is healed, although likely not Naaman. It is an interesting comparison to look at the healing of the psalmist and the healing of Naaman. The psalmist cried out to God and knows from where the healing power comes. Naaman would rather buy his healing than admit that God is more powerful than him.
Paul is encouraging the people of Galatia to stay true to their Gentile roots, in spite of the pressure they are facing to be circumcised. Even though those around tell the Galatians they are disobeying the law, Paul encourages them that their identity in Christ is based on their faith alone, not on any imperfect attempt to obey the law. He reminds the Galatians that the cross does not give us an escape from the world, but binds us with Christ more firmly to it. What we sow in the world will be the fruit of our faithfulness to God.
This continues in our gospel. The seventy are given their marching orders which include the warning of the inevitable conflict they will face. Reflecting on this passage with a group of clergy once, we were talking about the times in our ministry when we face conflict. Is Jesus really telling us to shake our shoes at people and walk away? Likely not. We can not simply abandon each person who throws their junk at us. What if Jesus means, don’t carry that dirt with you? Walk away if you must, but don’t let the burden of this conflict weigh you down wherever you go. Rest in your identity in Christ.
What are your marching orders for this week?