#13: Monday, 18March, 2019.
Monday, 18 March Luke 7:1-17
Written by Dr Graham Leo. ©2019.
Have you ever found yourself asking God to do something for you, perhaps a healing or a new job or something else that you really want, and thinking (in the back of your mind, even if you don't say it aloud or even think it too loudly): ‘After all, I really deserve this.’
The companion-piece of that would be, of course, asking: ‘Why me?’ when some disaster falls upon you. ‘Why me?’ really means, ‘I didn't deserve this’. Today’s reading forces us to think about this matter of getting what we really deserve.
The characters in the first story are so typical of us. They flock to Jesus asking him to heal the servant of a Roman centurion. Fancy that! Why would these faithful Jews who hate their Roman overlords beg Jesus to do this kind thing? Because the Roman had made a big donation to the church! Well, to the synagogue, but it boils down to the same thing.
Their argument was terribly familiar. This chap has been very generous with his funds and his time. His photo is hanging in the foyer of the local Council chamber, and he’s the President of the Rotary club. He’s on the Archbishop’s Advisory Council for the Cathedral Renovations (no prizes for guessing why he’s on that committee!) and he makes regular appearances on television talk shows.
Well, it’s his servant who is sick and, yes, we know he’s a Roman, but he really, really, really deserves to have something done for him, and you could do it, Jesus. We know you could. You're really good at this sort of thing. Would you go and see him? Please?
Oh dear! How often have I approached God in exactly the same way? ‘Please fix up my wife, my child, my friend. They don't deserve this terrible thing.’
Well, Jesus does heal the centurion’s servant – but not because he deserves it. Jesus heals him because of the man’s faith – and because it fits his Mission Statement. To announce the kingdom, to bring healing to the sick, freedom to the oppressed and so on. Remember? We read it in Luke 4.
There is a little detail to notice. The servant (v2) was ‘about to die’. He was so sick he was at death’s door. This wasn't a simple fever or a damaged limb. This man was dying. Park that to one side for a moment. We’ll come back to it.
But then Luke smacks us between the eyes with his next little story.
By the way, Very Clever People who write Really Big Books call these little stories that make up the Gospels, ‘pericopes’. Before you go off using this word, though, it’s best to learn how to pronounce it. It’s not pronounced it as it looks: Perry Coaps. It’s pronounced per-ic-o-pays with the emphasis on the ic.
It comes from two Greek words peri, meaning ‘around’, and coptein, meaning to cut. Think about cutting a little piece out of a magazine or newspaper that you want to keep for later. You snip around it with scissors and cut it out. You’ve made a pericope. Or you could just call it a snippet. But that won't make you sound half as special.
Anyway, Luke’s next little pericope (snippet) tells the story of another person whom Jesus healed. But this time there was no crowd urging Jesus to do something because this person really, really deserved some help.
This time it was just a poor widow (all widows were poor, because their bread-earning husband had died, in a society where most women didn't have the means to support themselves easily). Her son, who was her last chance at having a man who could provide for her, had died.
There was a large crowd with the funeral procession, so at least her plight had been widely noticed. But our Lord saw this procession, saw the poor widow and we read those lovely words: ‘and his heart went out to her, and he said: “Don't cry”’.
Of all the many words I love to read in scripture, this short description fills me with love for him. I'm so glad that he doesn't just help those who ‘deserve’ to be helped. The big donors, the fancy names, the ones on the Important Committees, the ones whose names are written on the office door in gold letters, the ones who know about pericopes.
There’s hope even for me, here. Jesus saw the widow in need, and his heart went out to her. Once Jesus’ heart has gone out to you, there really is no need to cry – though I bet you won't be able to stop yourself anyway. If his mercy and grace don't reduce you sometimes to tears, then you're about as human as a marble statue. You might look human, but you'd have a heart of stone.
After the first healing, Luke doesn't mention that anyone was filled with awe at what Jesus had done. The man got what he deserved. Move on.
After the second healing, Luke tells us: ‘They were all filled with awe and praised God, saying. … God has come to help his people.’
Of course, it is true that this second healing was more than just a healing. Jesus actually raised the young man from the dead.
But remember the little detail we noted above. The centurion’s servant was ‘about to die’. He was as good as dead. The difference between ‘about to die’ and ‘dead’ didn't matter to Jesus. He is the Author, the Giver of Life.
Jesus didn't muck about talking about euthanasia for the ‘about to die’ servant. He didn't waffle on about how everyone deserves to ‘die with dignity’ or ‘choose the moment of their death’. That sort of stuff doesn't belong in Christian conversation. Christians should talk about living with dignity, not dying with it. The living is the necessary part leading right up to the dying. Dying isn't something you do, anyway; it’s something that happens to you. Living is what you do. The dignity in living right on up to death comes from knowing and honouring the Giver of Life, not from claiming that role for ourselves.
The community at large will be filled with awe when Christians deal courageously, compassionately and generously with all stages of living, not when we capitulate to the Culture of Death that so marks our fearful, tremulous era.
Prayer: Help me, please, Lord Jesus Christ, to live with courage and clarity, with hope and wholeness, in the face of sickness and death. Amen.