Posted on Thu, Jun 2, 2016
May 29, 2016
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel: Luke 7:1-10 “Unexpected Grace”
Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Alternative beginning (Story of searching Farida Han and her store to buy stoles and being rescued by the Palestinian family during the Intifada when the Israeli soldiers came running by. Unexpected grace and rescue.)
Do you think pastors get angry? We do for all kinds of reasons. When we see people, especially children, going hungry, without shelter, without proper medical care and then being blamed for all that is wrong in the world, which makes me very disappointed and angry. We also get angry when so-called ‘church people’ are put in charge of teaching and they have no real training and don’t understand what the basic message of the Gospel is all about. I once had a young mother come to my office, very troubled, after attending a Bible Study where the leader openly claimed her mother was in hell because she wasn't baptized in the right way and hadn’t made a “decision for Christ.” Bad theology can be a very hurtful thing! In the letter to the Galatians, we see a very, very angry Apostle Paul. In one of his sentences He even goes so far as to suggest that it would not be such a bad thing if his opponents suffered a slip of the knife in an act of self-mutilation (5:12). Maybe this lets us know how good he really was at persecuting Christians before his conversion. What made Paul so angry? Apparently, missionaries following after him have persuaded these Gentile Christians that it is necessary for them to become Jewish in order to be true followers of Christ. Their logic may have gone something like this: Jesus was a Jewish Messiah, and his first disciples were Jews. They used the Jewish scriptures. Therefore, those who want to become followers of Jesus must first become Jews. For the men, that means circumcision. To be one of us, these Judaizing opponents argued, you have to be just like us. Paul’s response? “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel! (Galatians 1:6) “AS IF THERE WAS ANOTHER GOSPEL… WHICH THERE ISN’T!” Paul would add.
The Gospel of Christ is not found in proper belief, proper traditions, proper practice, but only in the Word of God that proclaims that through the death and resurrection of Christ, we are totally forgiven and reconciled with our God. The Gospel is not about giving us orders, but proclaiming what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. The story is about grace! Pure Grace!
The Gospel Story for today is familiar to us, but there are some amazing little details that only Luke would include. Jesus is in a ‘safe-zone,’ in Capernaum. If you go to Capernaum, there are two major Bible sights to see; one is a chapel built right over the compound we think Peter’s family lived. It looks like a big UFO on stilts over an excavation. Second, is the ancient synagogue. The ancient synagogue is built with beautiful white stones, maybe marble, but this structure is built on top of an even older synagogue that was built with darker stones and only flat foundation remains. It is a Jewish city, but also an outpost for the Roman army. It is not a place Romans soldiers would like to be assigned as it is very far from home. But at this time, there is a very special Roman Centurion assigned to Capernaum, and it appears that the stability and relative calm may be attributed to a wise and gracious Roman Centurion. The people seemed to really appreciate this Roman Centurion as he built for the Jewish people there, a very nice synagogue. Think about it, it wasn't just that the Roman Centurion, who was certainly a Gentile, built a synagogue for the people to worship within, but that the Roman Centurion built a place the people he was responsible for occupying, a place they can gather out of sight of the roman soldiers. There must have been some trust and understanding between the Roman Centurion and the people!
So when Jesus approaches, it is the people who run out to Jesus for the sake of the Roman Soldier and his sick servant. The people recognized that the sick servant meant a great deal to the Roman Centurion and his illness even was an emergency for the people of Capernaum. There was obviously a very significant relationship between the Roman Centurion and his slave. We don't know what it is but the people of the village obviously were concerned for the Centurion and the Servant.
The stage is equally misunderstood. Many books that depict this scene often show the Roman Centurion coming out to actually beg Jesus to heal his servant, but that is not true. The Roman Centurion never actually goes out to meet Jesus ever in the story. As Jesus was heading to his house, another group representing the Centurion come out to meet Jesus and THEY say, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.”
Why doesn't Jesus and the Centurion every meet each other? Could it be that both of them know, especially the Roman Centurion, how their reputation could be negatively affected if word got out that the Centurion asked help from a Jewish Rabbi? I am not so sure if Jesus would have cared to meet the Roman Centurion or not, he goal was to heal a sick individual. Jesus was on a mission of mercy, not on a mission to improve his social status.
But the words of faith from the friends of the centurion, amazed Jesus to the point that he makes a remark that almost seems like a dig at the people of Israel, the people standing around him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’
The issue was simply faith. The Roman Centurion had heard what Jesus could do, and he believed. He never even attended my confirmation class, he was a Gentile but he understood who Jesus was and what Jesus could do.
The text just grabs my heart because the entire motivating factor in the story is the passion Jesus had for healing this very special servant. There was more than simple ‘appreciation’ between the Roman Centurion and his servant. There must have been a very special bond. They must have gone through some amazing trials TOGETHER to still be together in such a remote place. They also must have been a great team working together as the entire village could recognize how important for these two to continue together.
Jesus felt their deep pain and concern for both the Roman Centurion and his servant. It is amazing how these two individuals were so important to the people of Capernaum, and even more amazing that Jesus immediately felt compassion for them as well, and even though the healing seemed to go through two committees, it happened … The servant was healed with just a Word. Healing happened through faith, not some prescribed practice.
God’s grace works like that, where there is pain and suffering Jesus is there. Jesus is there ready to work through us and the resources we have been blessed with by God to use to alleviate suffering, hopelessness, loneliness and pain. But the main thing is our actions of justice and mercy are all founded on the promise of love and faith.
Merciful Lord God, we do not presume to come before you trusting in our own righteousness, but in your great and abundant mercies. Revive our faith, we pray; heal our bodies, and mend our communities, that we may evermore dwell in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
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