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Epiphany 6 | Ordinary Time 6, Cycle B

“Lord God, mercifully receive the prayers of your people. Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do, and give us grace and power to do them; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

It is in the portions of The Prayer of the Day for this Sunday that are italicized above that we see the unifying factor in the four texts selected for this day. Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Syria, needed help from the Lord God through Naaman’s own servants before he could understand the things that he should do in the cleansing of his body from leprosy in the 2 Kings 5:1-14 Elisha story. The psalmist in Psalm 30, afflicted by a life-threatening illness, needed help that could be given only by the Lord God. The person with leprosy in the Mark 1:40-45 account came to Jesus and was cleansed, but he was not obedient to Jesus’ request that he say nothing about his being healed to anyone. He seemed to lack the grace and power to follow through with Jesus’ request. Finally, Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 urged the followers of Jesus in Corinth to see and to understand the things that they should do, and wrote about the self-control needed in order to have the power to do them. The Prayer of the Day is also our prayer on this day as pastors and as people of God at worship. We too need help to see and to understand the things we ought to do, and we too need the grace and power to do them.

2 Kings 5:1-14

This complete story in the entire chapter of 2 Kings 5 is so rich in symbolism and meaning that the limited use of only a portion of it in a lectionary on a particular occasion is a cause for regret. The story about Naaman was especially significant for Israelites while they were in exile in Babylon after 597 and 586 BCE who wondered whether they could worship the Lord God without having “two mule loads of soil from Israel” on which to build an altar (5:17) and whether the Lord God would pardon them if under their condition of servitude they were forced to bow down in a temple dedicated to Marduk, the Deity as perceived in Babylon (5:18).

For us in our time this 2 Kings 5 text is a reminder that we, like Naaman, should do whatever it is necessary that we do, and should ask God for the grace and power to do it. We should do this at all times, not only when we are ill and full of disease, but at all times.

Psalm 30

The questions that the psalmist asks of God in verse 9 are fascinating. Faced by a terminal illness, the psalmist argues with the Lord God that it will actually be to the advantage of God to heal the psalmist. If God permits the psalmist to die, the Lord God will receive no benefits from the psalmist. The psalmist will no longer be able to praise God and no longer be able to tell people about the trustworthiness of the Lord. Under similar circumstances, would the line of argumentation that the psalmist uses be appropriate for us today? What prayer possibilities does this open?

Mark 1:40-45

We notice initially that this account is much less developed than is its antecedent in 2 Kings 5. The cleansing from leprosy account in 2 Kings 5 actually depicts a greater miracle than the one attributed to Jesus here in Mark 1. Elisha as a prophet, a “man of God,” spoke the word that resulted in the restoration of sound flesh not merely to a leper,” but to “Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Syria.” Syria had been the dreaded enemy of Israel at the time depicted in this story, and Elisha spoke the word that led to the cleansing not directly to Naaman but through a messenger. If Elisha performed such great miracles merely through the spoken word as a representative of God, surely Jesus as the Son of God must have performed as great or greater miracles. Such must have been the thinking of many among the early followers of Jesus. As pastors, what are the things that we should see and understand that we ought to do and need the grace and power of God to do? In what areas have we failed to see and to understand what we ought to do, and, not having asked for the grace and power to do them, lost them by default?

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

The verb hypopiazo has been almost consistently poorly translated in 9:27. Paul was using the analogy of a boxer here in a fierce struggle with an opponent in an athletic contest in 9:26b. It is not likely that Paul switched from the analogy of striking the body of his opponent in 9:26b to the idea of striking his own body and subduing it in 9:27. The body that he depicted as “my body” in 9:27 was the body of his opponent in the athletic contest analogy, the body that he said was “my body” to subdue. To “pommel” his own body and to subdue it once a boxing match has begun would not gain for him the crown of victory that he sought. That would have been entirely “missing the mark” that Paul wrote in 9:26b that he did not do.

Consider, therefore, the following translation for 9:24-27, because the literal meaning of the verb hypopiazo is as a prize-fighting term “I strike under the eye,” and because of the way in which Paul used analogies in the other portions of his letters.

(24) Do you not know that those who run in a stadium all run, but that only one receives the trophy for first place in each individual race? This is how I want you to run your lives so that you will receive the trophy. (25) Every competitive athlete trains strenuously, showing self-control in all ways. They train in order to receive a victory crown that soon withers, but we to receive one that does not wither. (26) For this I run, not without my goal in sight. For this I box, not beating the air and missing my mark. (27) I hit the body of my opponent right under the eye and subdue it, so that having proclaimed the gospel to others, I might not fail to receive the crown of victory myself. (as translated in Norman A. Beck, The New Testament: A New Translation and Redaction (Lima, Ohio: Fairway Press, 2001)

The mark that Paul was referring to in 9:26b was almost certainly the place under the eye of his opponent, the place that he wanted to “hit” in order to win the match and with it the “crown of victory,” eternal life with Christ.

Our salvation does not, of course, depend upon our translation of this verb, but our understanding of Paul’s theology is enhanced when we translate hypopiazo more literally and do not produce the ludicrous situation of Paul giving himself a knock-out punch in order to try to defeat his opponent and gain the crown of victory. Paul’s analogy, when translated as it is translated above, provides an illustration that is readily understandable today and helps us to see and to understand the things that we ought to do. It helps to give us the grace and power to do them.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen