December 17, 2017

Sermon: Jesus, a Prophet for All People

Centurion Widow

Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

– Luke 7:16-17 NRSV

* * *

Together, this Sunday and next represent one of the reasons I love hearing the Gospels each Sunday. The two Gospel narratives from Luke are organically connected and provide wonderful lessons when read in the light of each other.

  • Today’s Gospel: Luke 7:1-10, is the story of Jesus healing the centurion’s servant.
  • Next Sunday’s Gospel: Luke 7:11-17, is the story of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain.

The two characters in these stories could not be more different. And yet Jesus loved and helped them both.

centurion-and-jesusThe Centurion
The centurion was a Roman military officer who had responsibility for a company of about 100 soldiers. The story tells us he also had a servant who was a very important member of his household. This servant had a serious illness and was near death, and the centurion became deeply concerned. He impresses me as a typical military leader — a man of action who goes to work to find a solution to this problem. When he heard about Jesus, the centurion was so impressed that he developed a strategy for reaching out to him for help.

First, he figured that since Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, he should send some Jewish leaders to put in a good word for him. It so happened that this centurion had been kind to his Jewish neighbors and had even contributed generously so that they could have a synagogue building. So he called the synagogue leaders and they went and appealed to Jesus: “This man is worthy of your help,” they said. Jesus agreed to go to his house.

While they were on the way, the centurion heard about it and sent another group of friends out to meet them. The centurion appreciated his help, they told Jesus, but he didn’t actually expect him to come to his house. He knew that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, and that coming to a Gentile’s home could cause trouble for him. Furthermore, he recognized that Jesus was a great man, a man who had the authority of God. As a military man, he knew what authority was all about. If you had a high rank, all you had to do was give the order and the mission would be carried out. He was a centurion; he gave those kinds of orders all the time. So this second delegation told Jesus, our friend says, “Just say the word and I know my servant will be healed.”

Well, that brought a big smile to Jesus’ face. Don’t you love it when Jesus get surprised, when he expresses delight? Listen to what the Gospel says: “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.’”

I like this centurion. He is a practical, direct, no-nonsense, respectful person. I’ve met so many like him over the course of my life and ministry. When there is a problem, he’s the one who will find a way to solve it. He may have high ideals, but in the final analysis he is utterly realistic. He will see to it that the job gets done. He is a man of action, and even though he may be an outsider in the place where he lives, he will do what it takes to discover what the proper channels are, and he will use them to achieve a goal. He won the good will of the people around him — people who had a right to despise him as an enemy. When he found himself in a tough situation, he found out who could help him the most, and he used an effective strategy to secure Jesus’ assistance.

Another reason I like him so much is that he found a way to express his faith in Jesus that was consistent with his personality and position. As a military man, he saw Jesus as the Supreme Commander, the One who could simply give the order, and God’s will would be done. It was a simple as that — “Speak the word, Jesus, and I know it will happen.”

In summary: The centurion is a man of action and strategy, whose faith reaches out to engage Jesus. He is utterly practical and goal-oriented. He believes that Jesus is the great Commander and has confidence that Jesus will get things done.

widow of nainThe Widow
We won’t take the time to go into as much detail about the widow at Nain in the next pericope. Here’s a summary of her situation:

The widow that Jesus helps, that we will read about in next week’s Gospel, is one who has lost everything, who has no more strength to act. Her son has died and she is left to face a life of poverty and difficulty. As a widow, she faces the prospect of living on the utter fringes of society. Without a husband, and now without a son, no strategy she might come up with could help her.

She was helpless and hopeless.

In the story, we don’t hear about her faith, as we do in the story of centurion. Instead, we hear strictly about Jesus’ compassion. We hear how he saw her, felt for her, spoke to her. We hear how he went to the bier of her dead son, spoke the word of life, then raised him up and gave him back to her.

Not a word of hers is recorded. She initiates no action or plan. She doesn’t even cry out for Jesus to help her. She is just there, helpless and hopeless in the place of death, and Jesus intervenes.

* * *

What I want you to see is that Jesus loved and helped both of these people.

His love and salvation runs the gamut. He helps those with an active and creative faith and those who can scarcely scrape up any faith at all. He helps those whose faith is energetic. He helps those whose faith is weak. He helps the strong military officer. He helps the broken grieving widow.

He helps everyone in between too. There is not a person in this world that Jesus won’t help. In fact, he is here for you and me today. And the good news is: he will come to you right where you are. You can be yourself. You can be honest about your sins and shortcomings. You can tell him your real problems, fears, and concerns.

Wherever you are, whatever your need, Jesus the Messiah, the One who comes with God’s authority to heal and restore and make all things new, and to bring life where there is death, is here for you, for all of us.

Amen.

Comments

  1. Robert F says:

    What a wonderful meditation.

  2. JoanieD says:

    Wonderful sermon, Chaplain Mike. I love that centurion too.

  3. Absolutely awesome, CM….perfect to get me into the right state of mind for Mass and this reading in an hour. I have always felt a kindred sprit in the centurion…..(just get the job DONE) but love the comparison with the widow.

  4. I enjoyed this. Our expression of faith being consistent with our personality is a jewel of insight and very liberating!

  5. Yeshua is Messiah and loves all people. Amen

  6. Those are great stores of Jesus love, didn’t matter who you were. That is the message I need to practice. I am glad you showed the icons I worship in an Eastern Orthodox community (We do NOT worship icons). Jesus gave us many illustrations in His life as how a Christian (little Christs) lives. He is not only our Savior but our mentor.

    Because on Him,
    don

  7. Thank you so much CM. This is exactly what I needed to hear today!