Sermon for 6 Epiphany B
This week the 3D version of the fourth Star Wars movie, which is actually the first episode, called The Phantom Menace, came out. As a child of the 80s, I can’t help but think that George Lucas is systematically, one movie at a time, attempting to dismantle my childhood. The original Star Wars movies were amazing, and the new ones, well the new ones just stink. I imagine that anyone under the age of twenty might disagree, and they are free to, but of course, they are wrong. They say the sequel is never the equal, but in the case of the Star Wars the prequel ain’t even close.
Not so with our readings today though. What we have in the gospel is something of a movie: Jesus heals someone and tells him to be quiet about it. But the healed man can’t help himself, he goes out, blabbing to anyone who will listen; so that while Jesus wanted to keep things quiet, he can no longer show his face in the towns for the fame that he now has. Jesus is a smash hit for his healings.
Now in the Old Testament, we get the story of Naaman. Naaman is a general who is not a friend of God, in fact he has captured at least one Hebrew woman. Well it turns out that Naaman has leprosy just like the man in the story with Jesus. We could see this reading as a prequel to the Jesus healing story. The woman that Naaman has captured seems like an uncommonly good person, because she has compassion on Naaman for his disease and tells him to go to Elisha the prophet. Naaman does and finally is healed, and commits himself to worshipping God. Here the prequel is the equal, someone is healed and begins to worship God.
So like Star Wars, we have an original blockbuster: Jesus the Healer. And like Star Wars we have a prequel: Naaman being healed and beginning to worship God. But what about the sequel? Is there a Empire Strikes Back to our New Hope? Is there something that comes after Jesus healing that is part of the same story?
Well as a matter of fact there is. It turns out that Jesus made plans for the sequel. In fact he even gave some coming attractions of it. You see, elsewhere in Jesus’ story he talks to some of his friends about feeding him when he was hungry, giving him a drink when he was thirsty, and visiting him when he was sick, or in prison. You remember this. His friends ask him back, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty or sick or in prison?” Jesus answered them: “When you give water or food to someone who is thirsty or hungry, when you visit the sick and those in prison, then you did it to me.” This is the sequel: where we see Jesus in the hungry, the sick, the dying, and the prisoner. The thoughtful film buff might inquire, “If that is the sequel, shouldn’t it be in the same theme? After all we have Jesus healing, then in the prequel we have Naaman being healed, the sequel then should be the same thing: someone should be healed when in the presence of Jesus.
Yes! There is, but this sequel has a twist, often when we think of helping others, we think we do it because it is something that Jesus would do. And of course Jesus did visit and heal the sick, he did feed the hungry. But the twist comes with how Jesus’ described what we see when we help others. When us Christians are helping others, we don’t necessarily act like Jesus, so much as we look for Jesus. That’s what Jesus says, when we help others we are helping him, when we serve others we serve Him. This is the twist and it gets even better. What happens to people when they are in the presence of Jesus? They get healed, and why should we be any different? So the story of healing goes on, we are the sequel; a sequel with a twist. The twist is that we think we are visiting the sick, we think we are being Jesus, but Jesus keeps making guest appearances and cameos, Jesus keeps showing up!
Jesus talks in the Gospels about where we might find him in two distinct places. When we have Holy Eucharist, “this is my Body, this is my Blood.” And we trust that Jesus shows up, that’s why we take the Holy Eucharist so seriously, Jesus is here! The other place that Jesus says he will show up is in the faces and hurt of the sick, dying, hungry and imprisoned. And we take this seriously too, but it’s a little riskier to see Jesus in this way. Sometimes Jesus has a dirty face, or a criminal record, or looks just like someone we bitterly do not want to lose. But Jesus has always been risky, that’s what makes this particular character so compelling. We should be as serious about seeing Jesus in others as we are about seeing him in the bread and wine.
So here we are; we are a sequel people. We live out that theme that God has established in the life of Jesus, the life of Israel, and now the life of the Church. In terms of Star Wars, I guess that makes us The Empire Strikes Back, which is the darkest, and most interesting of all the Star Wars movies. But that also means that God has one more sequel in store, one more chapter in the saga; a Return of the Jedi if you will, where everything is revealed, where God is fully known to us and we truly accept who our Father is.
Until then, until that finale is released; let’s live the story, let’s go out and be healed by Jesus, here in the breaking of the bread and as we care for each other meeting Jesus face to face.