Noticing the Obvious

Heritage Presbyterian Church

18th Sunday after Pentecost
October 9, 2022

Scripture readings: 2nd Kings 5:1-15 & Luke 17: 11-19

In today’s message, I am going to discuss that which is obvious and that which is not.  I am going to use a word you might not have heard before: “unobvious.”  I assure you that I have investigated this term, and while unusual and uncommon – it is indeed a word.

So…obvious and unobvious.

In our world, it is pretty easy to see those things that are obvious.  To focus on those brave souls who step into the pulpit of any church, these things might seem obvious:

  • Who is a male and who is a female preacher;
  • Who is old and who is young;
  • Who is easy to hear and who is not;
  • Who smiles and who does not.

Other characteristics of those same people might take some time to discern; these might be unobvious:

  • Who knows what they are talking about;
  • Who is wise;
  • Who is loving;
  • Who practices what is preached…and who does not.

Those things take time and are not always agreed upon by those who witness the preacher in the pulpit for more than a few Sundays.

So, with that distinction in mind, let us look carefully at the Old Testament lesson from the second book of Kings regarding the Syrian general named Naaman.  He must have been a very fine general, one who was respected and followed by his men.  Yet, the account from Kings made it clear from the start that Naaman had leprosy.

So, the following became crystal clear following this reading:

  • Naaman was a great general who led his troops to victory on a regular basis.
  • Naaman’s leprosy was not bad enough to banish him from his army…OR Naaman was such a great general that, even with leprosy, he was too important to banish.
  • Naaman’s wife’s slave knew about Elisha and his healing powers; she became the catalyst for Naaman’s healing.
  • The king of Israel freaked out and tore his robes when Naaman’s letter arrived asking for a cure for his leprosy.
  • Naaman’s pride kept him from readily accepting any conditions when he asked to be cured.
  • Naaman was a man who gave orders and yet obeyed orders from his own superiors.
  • Naaman was ultimately cured of leprosy.
  • Elisha healed Naaman but refused his gift for curing him.

After Naaman was healed, several things happened that might be unobvious at first glance:

  • Naaman became a believer in Yahweh.
  • Elisha refused payment for healing Naaman because Elisha did not want payment for doing the Lord’s work.
  • Naaman’s servants must have either believed strongly in Elisha or they understood this was a unique opportunity for their beloved general to be healed; either way, they cared enough about Naaman to practically push him to go to Elisha and ask for help.
  • At the end, Naaman recognized that he had “divided loyalties.”  He believed in the Yahweh who had cured him through Elisha, but he also had to enter a pagan temple with his king as part of his duties.  Naaman was smart enough to ask Elisha’s help in solving this problem.
  • Naaman also truly humbled himself in returning to Elisha to thank him and in asking Elisha for help with his divided loyalties.
  • Finally…did you notice that Naaman was a general for the land of Aram, in what is today Syria? Aram was a bitter enemy of Israel, and Naaman’s most recent victory was over Israel…God’s people!

In the end, Naaman’s leprosy on his skin was obviously cured.  But his soul was unobviously cured and he became a believer!

The obvious things catch our attention easily.  We can learn from them, and we can use them to shape our actions, knowledge, and opinions.  But the unobvious things sometimes tell us even more!

Now let’s take the same lens to the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers.  What is the obvious?

  • Lepers in the days of Jesus were avoided at all costs by the people.  They separated themselves into colonies where anyone with the same disease was included.  
  • They also positioned themselves near roads to appeal for charity from travelers.
  • The only official way to be declared “cured” in those days was to be examined by a Temple priest.  This meant that sometimes what they took for leprosy could actually be cured or could heal itself with time.  This instruction had its roots in Old Testament law.
  • Ten lepers approached Jesus and cried out, “Master!  Have pity on us!”  While we don’t know exactly what they meant by this phrase, it is clear they understood that Jesus was not just another traveler on the road.
  • One of the lepers was a Samaritan; this reinforced the belief that in the leper colonies, religious separations didn’t matter.  
  • Jesus healed all ten of the lepers who begged for pity; only the Samaritan leper came back to thank him.  To add to this point, Jesus said that the Samaritan’s faith had healed him.

Good lessons to learn from all those points.  

Now, let’s examine the unobvious points and see what we can learn:

  • Other people in the Gospel also yelled for Jesus to help them.  Remember the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who yelled for Jesus even when other travelers told him to shut up?  Remember when Peter tried to walk on water but began sinking beneath the waves?  I don’t think he murmured for help from Jesus.  And remember how Paul reacted when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus?  Finally, there was the Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon who cried out to Jesus for help.  It would seem obvious that calling out to Jesus for help was not that rare, but we struggle to remember them all without doing some research.
  • The only leper who returned to thank Jesus was the Samaritan, as we know; however, what we may not remember, the unobvious point comes from the beginning of the Book of Acts; in chapter 1, verse 8, Jesus is about to ascend into Heaven; before he left,     he told his Apostles to “be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Clearly, Jesus didn’t care who was a Samaritan, who was a Jew, who was a Roman, who was a Canaanite, who was a priest, who was a Levite – or who was a Presbyterian.
  • To emphasize that last unobvious point, let us all remember that Luke, who wrote the third Gospel and the Book of Acts, was Greek.  It could be said that Luke sought to tell his own Jesus story with the lens of universal inclusion in the salvation through Christ.

So, the final questions beg to be answered for today: 

What is unobvious to us and how can we learn from it?

What do we even take time to see in our own world?  Do we ever put our cell phones down long enough to look up and see what’s going on around us?  Do we turn away from those things that are hard to watch – and yet might be used by the Lord to tell us something?  

Each and every one of us is called to serve.  That service is not possible if our hearts are not in it; in fact, that service is nearly impossible if we don’t even look around.

In studying movies, television shows, the latest novels, each of us can give our full attention to what is in front of us and what might be hidden just beneath the surface.  No matter the plot, characters, or setting, each one can reveal something unobvious to us with just a little effort.

We can do the same with the world around us.

We can notice what is obvious and how it affects us.

We can also dig a little deeper and seek those things that are unobvious – and perhaps better serve the Lord by doing so.