The Second Sunday after Pentecost
Deacon Anne Flynn
Luke 7:1-10

In today’s gospel, we hear about a healing. But, fact is, healings are not uncommon in the gospel stories. Jesus heals on thirteen occasions in Luke and three gospels tell of Jesus’ healing in Capernaum: Matthew – tells the story of the centurion’s servant while Luke tells the same story but refers to the centurion’s slave and John talks about an official’s son

This particular event in Capernaum comes after Jesus had selected the twelve apostles and after the sermon on the plain where Jesus gives us the beatitudes that instructs us on how we are to treat each other including loving your enemies and doing good to those who hate you

This was a time when crowds were coming to hear him and be healed of their diseases. And, those who were troubled with unclean spirits were trying just to touch him, feeling the power come out from him and healing all of them.

And yet, we hear Jesus become frustrated when he tells the apostles a parable and asks them a key question. “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I tell you?” He tells them that one who hears his words and does not act is like a man who builds a house without a foundation so that when the river bursts against the house, the house falls, ruined.

Jesus’ journey continues to Capernaum and it is here that we encounter the centurion and his slave. I have to tell you that at this point in the story I almost got side tracked by the word slave and the reality of slavery in biblical times and now even in the 21st century, slavery is still with us around the world and even here in the United States even as we believe ourselves civilized.

The fact is that Jesus’ ministry and the writing of the gospels occurred within the cultural practice of slavery. The relationship Jesus describes is not with society but with us as individuals. Within that context, the gospel of Jesus abolished the distinction between slave and free.

Jesus told the disciples that he was sent by the Father to the lost tribes of Israel but over time, Jesus reveals that he was sent not just for Israel but for all the world. And, as he continues his teachings, he describes a relationship that is more and more personal. It is a relationship that ignores human status and instead focuses on each of our relationships with God.

The Centurion described himself as one who was not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof. He said that he was not asking anything for himself but rather asking help for his slave. Luke tells us that Jesus was amazed by this encounter and told the crowd following him that this was a man of great faith. I’m sure that was a statement that amazed the crowd.

The Centurion asking for healing for his slave was a gentile known by the Jewish community but not part of that community. He was a Roman, a gentile. He knew of Jesus’ works of healing; he also knew that Jesus could just command another to heal; he understood authority and knew that all Jesus needed to do was command the healing. We are told that when those who had been sent by the centurion returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

So, despite the centurion wasn’t a Jew and despite the fact that the they never meet face to face, the Centurion’s faith is recognized and rewarded. What we don’t hear in Luke’s story is how the centurion might have been transformed? Surely he heard what Jesus said about him. Was he shaken to the core? Did he feel the bond of relationship to this teacher? Did he understand he had just had an encounter with the son of God?

When we experience God, Father Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Yahweh, Abba, Allah are we changed? Do we need miracles or is Jesus’ command to love enough?

Too often our transformations are caused by personal tragedy, personal illness or an event in a loved one’s life. Or, we read the newspaper and are moved to silent prayer pleading with God to do something. Asking God to change hearts of stone

But God is looking for more than that. Through Jesus we have a personal relationship with God and from Jesus we have received the commandment to love.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to do good expecting nothing in return. How different that is from what the world tells us.

Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, I don’t think Paul means that we use only words to pray but that prayer is how we think, how we feel and what we do. If we think of prayer as only requiring words, it is surely impossible to pray without ceasing.

Think of the early church. Jesus and the disciples were literally on the road? As they walk along, following Jesus and hearing him teach, the disciples learned by doing. They grew into an understanding of this God of love, this God of compassion, this God who loves justice, this God who makes all things new, by participating as agents of compassion, justice, and newness. They stop for refreshment, reflection and prayer but the journey described in the four Gospels does not happen in the sanctuary; it happens on the road, in the company of beggars, prostitutes, and lepers, Jews and Gentiles. They learned — literally at the feat of the master — that human relationships need to be built on love.

Now think of where we are in the 21st century. How are we growing in our understanding of God’s love, compassion, justice, and newness of life? How are we living together, sharing the love that God freely gives to us? How are we dealing with our neighbors?

You may have heard this quote—sometimes attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

In the end, as we watch the disciples learn from Jesus, we find that the truth is found in the journey. We learn, as they did, that the only way we’re going to have the kingdom realized is person by person. We come to realize that each have to accept the great commission and make it happen. In accepting the great commissions to love God and love each other — we are new, we are changed as individuals even as the Centurion is changed by his encounter with the divine.

Instead of waiting for some crisis to awaken our need for God, it would be refreshing and even life giving if we could experience transformation through radical love. God loves all of his people — slave or free, Centurion or Jew. God loves each one of us and calls on us to share that love with each other.