Lectionary Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

From 1 & 2 Kings (BTCB) by Peter J. Leithart, commenting on 2 Kings 5: 1-14

 The story of Naaman’s conversion is one of the most detailed and one of the most sociologically and psychologically rich conversion stories in the Bible. Almost for the first time, the Bible depicts the change of mind and heart, as well as the change of status, that occurs when a sinner turns to the God of Israel. Naaman’s conversion involves a change of status that makes him acceptable before God. Second Kings 5:1 introduces him in exalted terms: he is a captain of the hosts, a great man, highly honored, decorated with many victories, a man of substance. But the verse concludes with a crashingly bathetic, and in Hebrew very blunt, qualifier: a leper. Naaman is the perfect “natural man,” but having achieved all that a hero could achieve, he still finds himself excluded from life. . . .

 Like Naaman, some Christians doubt what the New Testament says about the power of baptismal water. When he finishes his Pentecost sermon, Peter tells the Jews how to respond to his message: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ,” he says, “for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Through baptism we have died and been buried with Christ so that we can walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:1–11); through baptism the Spirit joins Jews and Greeks into one body (1 Cor. 12:12–13); baptism clothes us in Christ (Gal. 3:26–29); in baptism we have been circumcised with a circumcision without hands (Col. 2:11–12), a circumcision that removes the flesh; baptism now saves us, Peter says (1 Pet. 3:21); and Paul talks about baptism as a “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). How can water do such wonders? Because baptism is not simply water, but water and word, water and promise. God does wonders, but he promises to do wonders through water. To say that water can cleanse leprosy, wash away sins, or renew life is an insult to intelligence. Water is just too simple, not to mention too physical and tangible. But that is exactly the point. Baptism is an insult to the wisdom of the world: through the foolishness of water God has chosen to save those who believe. Baptism is a stumbling block for the powerful, who want to do something impressive or at least have something impressive done to them. God says, trust me, let me wash you up, and you can become a temple of the Spirit and sit at my table in my kingdom. He says, become as a little child, and believe what I say about baptism. As James B. Jordan (1998) says, all baptism is infant baptism.

 

 ©2006 by Peter J. Leithart. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.