2nd Sunday after Pentecost
May 29, 2016
Luke 7: 1-10 You can click on this link to open the reading in Oremus Bible Browser
“When Jesus heard this he was amazed.” Do you think your trust ever amazes Jesus? Do you ever think that what you ask for amazes Jesus? I wonder if the 1st Century Christians who heard this story were amazed themselves. After all, by the time this was written, they were confronted by a Roman authority that had crushed Jewish rebellions, plundered and destroyed the temple, killed or exiled their leadership, and scattered the faithful across the known world.
This is a beautiful story told by a superb storyteller. It contrasts the willingness of a Roman General to trust Jesus’ authority against an increasingly hostile Jewish Temple group, who is unwilling to trust him at all. In his orderly telling of the tale, Luke leaves out much that causes us questions: How had the General heard about Jesus? We don’t know the story of the General and the slave: what made the slave so special? Was he Jewish, perhaps? We don’t know what happened to any of them after the healing was over. What we know is about the relationship of the General to the community in which he was stationed. That he could persuade his Jewish friends to beg Jesus to come heal the Roman’s slave says a great deal about the man.
Jesus didn’t put any qualifications on the healing he was willing to perform: he didn’t ask for conversion or baptism, he did not ask him for any testimony. He just headed in the direction of the man’s house to answer his plea. I think the portrayal of the Roman General as the sympathetic character in this story might have caught the early Christians by surprise. The enemy which had destroyed their temple, murdered their leaders is lifted up as a model of faith, faith that amazes Jesus. Jesus is so willing to act outside of the lines of who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy to heal a man who is the slave of the enemy.
In the previous chapters of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has just delivered the equivalent of the Sermon on the Mount: lifting the lowly and calling down woe on the rich, teaching the Lord’s Prayer, and assuring his disciples that God sees their needs and responds. Now he’s putting the ideals he preaches into action, stepping outside of his tradition to hear the prayer of a Pagan. His message is clear, though not always easily accepted. God’s love and care is for everyone. Everyone. God does not take sides in our wars or conflicts. Whenever we draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, we can pretty much count on Jesus being on the other side.
It is amazing who God uses to create healing and peace, and to further God’s agenda of loving the seeker and the lost, the stranger and the needy. What’s amazing is that we so rarely see our privilege, feeling as if we deserve our blessings and comfort. We sit in our pews and think we have a lock on God’s presence and God’s love, forgetting that we are no better than anyone through whom God works or anyone else whom God invites. It’s hard for us to recognize where else God might be at work in the world, or who else is providing the opportunity for God to bless the world.
When I struggled to find the patience for longed-for opportunities – opportunities I was so sure were what God had in store for me, my friend Norvene suggested that God never says, NO, to our prayers. The answer is always yes. But that answer often takes longer than our attention span, or comes in a way that is so different than what we expect that we don’t always recognize it right away. I’m sure everyone of you has a story of answered unanswered prayers. Does your faith ever amaze Jesus? Your tenacity in prayer? Your willingness to trust that the deepest longings of your heart are the Holy Spirit prompting you to ask for what God wants to give you?
And then the other question that this story asks is: are your eyes open to where God is at work outside of your prayers, your church, your religion, your country? Are you willing to see that God loves even people that you cannot love or trust? What kind of healing do we need the most, I wonder. Is it healing from our hurts or healing from our blindness? Will God’s amazing love for the world turn our hearts to ask the most amazing things for all people, as well as for ourselves? Amen.