The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 4C (6/2/2013)

Lessons:
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
Psalm 96:1-9 (3)
Galatians 1:1-12
St. Luke 7:1-10

Semicontinuous Series:
1 Kings 18:20-21 [22-29] 30-39
Psalm 96 (7)

Prayer of the Day:
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.

7:1 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 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; 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.” 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.


St. Luke 7:11-17. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Not Even In Israel…

It should come as no surprise to the reader that I am more than a little distressed about the divisiveness that exists in the church. It is to be expected in the halls of congress, where it seems that we pay our legislators to be more interested in the partisan club they’ve joined than in the larger good of our country. But it shouldn’t exist in the church to the extent that it does. The church would be far healthier, and would be able to offer a much more powerful witness to the world, if its members assumed the best about one another. Martin Luther once had something to say about this:

The Eighth Commandment: You must not tell lies about your neighbor.
Q. What does this mean?
A. We must fear and love God, so that we will not deceive by lying, betraying, slandering or ruining our neighbor’s reputation, but will defend him, say good things about him, and see the best side of everything he does.

Jesus seems to have given this some thought. In this Sunday’s Gospel lesson a Roman Centurion (an officer in the Roman army) owns a slave who is gravely ill. This Centurion is a good friend of the Jewish people. They describe him as one who “loves our people.” (A refreshing change from many of the Roman officials who held power in Jerusalem!) He has been involved in building a synagogue for them. He maintains warm relationships with the Jewish elders. This Centurion hears about Jesus, and asks the elders to approach him to see if there is something he can do about this slave.

Anyone living with an insider/outsider perspective would have reason to stay at a distance from this Gentile — this non-believer. The Centurion’s job is to maintain the peace, with force if necessary. It would be easy enough for any of the Jewish believers of the day to hold this man in suspicion. “Why is he being nice to us? What is he trying to accomplish? Is he setting us up? Are we being played for fools?” First century Jews and Centurions have far less in common than twenty-first century Republicans and Democrats, or mainline protestants and pentecostals. It would have been easy enough for them to keep him at arm’s length.

Jesus doesn’t play that game, though. In fact, he immediately makes his way to the Centurion’s home — which is far better treatment than he gives to his dear friend, Lazarus (St. John 11:1-6). Along the way, word comes from the Centurion, and Jesus sees for himself how trusting and faithful this man is. Jesus is amazed, and remarks: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Jesus doesn’t question this man’s motives, or challenge this man’s beliefs. He sees, instead, an opportunity to touch his heart. So he commends this man’s faith. He heals this man’s slave. Two thousand years later, his followers still remember the moment. An outsider, with a completely different set of beliefs, is commended for his faith. “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Jesus is able to see, in this man’s heart, the gift of genuine faith. It is easy enough to notice the differences that exist among us. Jesus is able to notice what he has in common with this Centurion. That’s the harder task. The task commended to us in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What divided Jewish believers from Roman officials in the first century?
  2. What other Centurions are mentioned in the Gospels?
  3. What does Jesus love for this Centurion say about his love for all people?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What religious groups, perspectives or individuals have raised my suspicions in the past?
  2. What would change if I looked, instead, for what I might appreciate about them?
  3. How could this attitude strengthen the possibility that I might share my faith with them?