When Someone Else Sings One of "Our" Songs
2 Kings 5:1-14 and Psalm 30
Old Testament Reading and Psalm for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Year C)
Psalm 30 is listed as a psalm of David. Of course, psalms of David are kind of like Abraham Lincoln quotes on Facebook; genuine articles are certainly floating out there, but there is a fair amount from less famous sources too. Psalm of David just sounds more impressive than Psalm of Phineas the Struggling Poet and Temple Lyre Player. All of which is to say David may or may not have authored Psalm 30, but his is the name we have.
Naaman certainly did not write Psalm 30, but he could have. The song of praise is thanking God for healing. This healing could be metaphorical. It could be the healing from a wound in battle. It could be a healing from an illness. It could be spiritual healing. Spiritual healing (which, in my head, I hear an alternate universe Marvin Gaye crooning) is closely tied up in all of those other kinds of healings. Naaman had leprosy. He journeyed to Israel to be healed by that nation's God.
After receiving instructions from the prophet Elisha (and putting up a bit of a fuss), Naaman literally washed himself clean in the Jordan River. Afterwards (a verse after the Lectionary text oddly ends) he confesses that Elisha's God is the one, true God. Perhaps he didn't have the poet's soul to write Psalm 30, but Naaman could have sung it with some serious conviction.
Yet the interesting thing about Naaman singing the greatest hits of this nation's beloved king is that he was strictly an outsider. He was not one of them. He was a Syrian. This does not mean that his gratitude to God was not true but it would have sat uneasy with people. It's Fourth of July weekend, so imagine a sporting event over the next couple of days. What would happen if the National Anthem was sung by an Afghanistan-born American citizen who was Muslim? Some people would freak out. Some people would be uncomfortable. Some would think, "This is awesome that they got someone different to sing this song!" All three responses betray an identification of that song with a certain group of people. Even though the United States is made up of many different cultures and "The Star-Spangled Banner" is this hypothetical individual's national anthem too, we often have a narrower image of who an American is. They are singing "our" song.
Or let's bring it home to Sunday. What if someone who was out of place in a church got up and sang a hymn? What if it were, depending on the church, a drag queen or a card-carrying Trump supporter? What if they sang "Amazing Grace" and meant every word of it? How would we respond? "They" are singing one of "our" songs. Are they welcome?
Naaman becomes a touchstone for this question of whether presumed outsiders had a place at the table. When Jesus was speaking to his hometown synagogue in Luke, he mentioned this story from 2 Kings. The crowd literally tried to kill him afterwards. They did not take it well. Jesus would go on to extend God's grace to all sorts of supposed outsiders of his day: women and children, Gentiles and Roman centurions, lepers and Samaritans. Through Jesus all sorts of walls were kicked down concerning who belonged.
Are "they" welcome? We speak often about how the Gospel is for all. How much do we mean it? How much do I mean it? I hope Naaman got the chance to sing Psalm 30. I don't if the timeline works out at all. But I hope that he got to sing his heart out. I hope that somewhere, someone heard him and realized that the song did not just belong to a certain group of people. It was a song for all who had been transformed by God and all kinds of people were welcome to sing it.