Luke 8:9-15

March 3, 2021

Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away.

As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance. Luke 8:9-15

Luke has drawn us in to this exchange between Jesus and his disciples by Jesus telling those disciples that they alone are getting some special insider information. As we read this, we are overhearing their conversation. This is a set up that assures us that we’re not being left out. What Jesus is communicating ought to be clear to us.

We are not among those who “‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’ So why does it still feel like we are?

Jesus says that the seed is the word of God. He isn’t referring to the Bible as we know it. Remember that Jesus is speaking to a group of illiterate peasants for whom access to the written word of God is limited to public places of worship. They don’t have a Bible sitting on a shelf at home. So the word of God includes the written records of people of faith but it must go beyond that.

The word of God also includes the living word of God, Jesus. So the seed is what the disciples are seeing Jesus do, and hearing Jesus teach. The word of God is the living will of God in action.

And Jesus is right. There are reasons why sometimes people just don’t get it. And THAT is why it feels like we – who ought to know better given the insider information we have been given – are also among those who don’t always get it either.

I look back through the twisted paths of my own life and it is clear that I have been both receptive and unreceptive to God’s word/will along the way. My life demonstrates moments when I’ve been the path, the rocks, and the thorns. And, sometimes, when I’ve proven good soil. I think that is how it is with all of us who are honest.

But I also think we react to this just like those first disciples did – for they too probably had moments like ours – but they knew that their goal was to strive toward being good soil.

The Christian faith isn’t based on fate. No matter how many times you hear that “God is in control” or that “God has a plan”, the reality is that we aren’t robots. We aren’t pawns in a grand game. We are children of God. We have the power to make choices. We can make up our minds and we can change our minds. We live in this tension.

As Luther would say, “the devil, the world, and our sinful selves” constantly tempts us to stray, but the Holy Spirit is also always at work in us, seeing that the seed takes root, and produces an abundant harvest.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, make us good soil. Keep us focused on your will, your way, your Word. Forgive us for those times when we are scattered, disobedient, and distracted. We want to be good soil. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Luke 8:4-8

March 1, 2021

When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.”

As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Luke 8:4-8

“Feedback” is an interesting word. There are times when it is a bad thing (no one appreciates the schreeching of an unbalanced middle school auditorium sound system), and there are times (when people give us feedback regarding something we have said or done) when it’s a good thing. On balance, feedback is a good thing.

Jesus tells a parable of a careless sower who haphazardly scattered his seed. He wasn’t at all careful. There really isn’t an excuse for wasting precious seed by throwing it on a walking path. That is the first thing anyone who has ever planted seeds would notice.

But then comes the feedback.

Some feedback came quickly. Birds didn’t take long to let the sower know that the seeds sown on the path were wasted.

Some of it took some time. The “let’s take some time to see how things are working out” nature of farming meant that it would be awhile before the straggly plants among the rocks, or the choked out plants among the thorns, would die. Oops.

But the seeds planted in good soil? They flourished and produced an abundant harvest. Possibly a good enough harvest to cover the previously wasted seed. The story has a happy ending.

Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” is an interesting way to end a story. Jesus isn’t making a point that we have to get right, he’s painting a picture and inviting us to enter. Tomorrow we will hear more about this story.

For now, just know that the varieties of feedback portrayed in this story sound a lot more like life as we know it than a culture of “I want it NOW!” allows for. Sometimes we get immediate feedback – but far more often, and for the most important things in life, we have to wait a long time before we see the fruits of our efforts. Hang in there.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, the extravagant generosity of your love reaches even to the thorniest areas of our lives. Today we need both perseverance and patience as we all do what only we can do in the little corners of the garden which you have entrusted to us. We pray for a good harvest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 8:1-3

February 26, 2021

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. Luke 8:1-3

Luke names three women among the followers of Jesus and adds “many others.” Have you ever imagined Jesus having more female followers than male followers?

Luke says that the twelve are with Jesus. As itinerant teachers/healers, they needed clothes to wear, food to eat, and places to sleep. Luke tells us that the women following Jesus “provided for them out of their resources.” Have you ever imagined that the main financial support for the ministry of Jesus came from women? Read these three verses again.

The historical record is crystal clear – the Jesus movement would never have taken root without the leadership and support of women. Women followed Jesus everywhere in his ministry. Jesus went out of his way to include women. Women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Lydia is the only named leader of an early Christian community that preceded the ministry of Paul. Paul always names women among those he thanks for their faithfulness. The earliest urban Christian communities always included women.

So what happened?

Why did the Christian movement evolve toward male domination with male leadership and females given only supportive roles?

The literalist fundamentalist answer would be “That’s the way God wanted it.”

But for those of us who aren’t quite so quick to confidently speak on God’s behalf in authoritatively defining God’s will (a very male way of operating) – we might imagine other reasons.

Perhaps women understood the message of Jesus more clearly. They saw the possibility of liberation from a male dominated culture. They understood Jesus’ call to servanthood even as they demonstrated servant leadership. They instinctively recognized that the Jesus way of being in the world was less about power and more about peace.

Do a quick mental rundown of the social issues that dominate our conversations today and ask yourself, “What does it take to positively benefit the lives of women?”

Consider how one side of those arguments protects male privilege (often by excluding and limiting the freedom of others) and how the other side seeks gender equality, inclusion, and expanding the freedom of others.

Here’s a quick example. Abortion. How do we limit it? We can all agree, can’t we, that no one purposely gets pregnant just so they can have an abortion. No one. And that no law will ever stop a desperate woman from finding a way to end a pregnancy.

So how do we limit it? The historical record is clear – abortion rates fall when women have access to preventative health care, including birth control, good educations (including sex education) which give them a sense of hope for the future, and the ability to earn a living wage with increased economic opportunity. AND the willingness of men to shoulder the responsibilities for the choices they make in life. Making babies means raising babies, at the very least, it means providing the financial support that the babies they make require which also requires living wages and economic opportunity. All of this is good for women and ends up being good for everybody.

Isn’t it possible, beginning with his mother, that women not only benefited from the ministry of Jesus, their presence and participation actually shaped what and how he taught? We would do well, in our current age, and in every age, to listen and heed what women say.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, thank you for the role that women played in your ministry and down through history in every community that seeks to follow you. Guide us as we continue to seek liberation, justice, equity, and wholeness in every area of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 7:40-50

February 25, 2021

Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”

“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:40-50

Here’s the problem with self-righteousness – it is a deadly spiral to a place that is bad for you, for everybody else in your life, and for the way that you put the world together. By definition, if you are right, everyone that sees life differently than you has to be wrong.

But it is hard for us to see our own self-righteousness. We have too much invested in “what will the neighbors think?” We get defensive which blocks new information from cutting through the smokescreens we project. We get stuck on ourselves.

So Jesus – wisely – doesn’t wage a frontal attack on Simon’s self-righteousness. Instead, he tells him a story.

Hearing the right story at the right time told in the right way has a chance to shake up our way of looking at the world. Hearing a real live person telling their own story, about their own experiences of life, especially if we already have a relationship with that person, can do the same thing.

Simon gets it right away. But notice how he hedges his answer. “I SUPPOSE the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” It is never easy to be confronted with our own self-righteousness. Simon isn’t going to go down without a fight. We seldom do either.

Notice also that Jesus, when he redirects Simon’s attention to the woman, speaks only out of his own personal experience. Jesus describes how he was treated by the woman and compares that to how he was treated by Simon. From the woman, Jesus experienced being loved. From Simon, not so much.

Then Jesus wipes her slate clean. “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.

Everybody else at the table starts doing theology. The woman walks away, reborn. The difference? She held nothing back. She didn’t cling to anything approaching self-righteousness because she knew full well who she was and what it took for her to survive in the world. She came to Jesus from a place of humility and hope; Simon probably patted himself on the back that he had the courage to invite Jesus to dinner in the first place AND he was a little disgusted that a woman like her had crashed the party.

That is where self-righteousness takes us. If we don’t think we need the love that Jesus gives us, we’re quite unlikely to come at the world from a place of love. When we judge ourselves lightly, we feel entitled to judge the rest of the world too. That never helps anyone.

Dear Jesus, thank you for reminding us today of the overflowing nature of your love, your mercy, your grace. Keep us always in touch with our own need for forgiveness, that we might in turn be more forgiving, more accepting, more merciful, more honest, with the other people in our lives and in our world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 7:36-39

February 24, 2021

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.

And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Luke 7:36-39

Evidently not all Pharisees were as close-minded toward Jesus as others. At least one of them was willing to give Jesus a chance. He invited Jesus over for dinner.

Who do you think stands to lose the most regarding the guest list at this particular dinner party? The Pharisee, risking becoming the target of gossip amongst his neighbors? Or Jesus, given that his followers already realize the extent to which the Pharisees see him as a threat?

You know the answer. We all think that it is the Pharisee who is taking the biggest risk. Why? Maybe because, in our minds at least, we think the Pharisee has the most to lose. The Pharisee has power.

We hear much talk these days about the social divisiveness in our country. Where is that divisiveness coming from? Just yesterday politicians in Tennessee raised objections to a basketball team kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. The politicians said their actions disgraced the flag, and those in uniform who have fought for our freedom. The players said it was to generate a deeper conversation about the pervasiveness of racism.

What is a bigger problem in our country? A lack of respect for our flag/military or racism?

Just yesterday, the North Dakota legislature heard a motion to repeal the state’s decision in 1975 to support the Equal Rights Amendment. Is that really, given all that is going on today, such a hot button topic? And why would they consider repealing it? Who wins on that one?

Yes, those last two paragraphs were “political.” So was the Pharisee’s decision to invite Jesus over for dinner!

But what no one expected was the intrusion of a woman with her jar of ointment, her hair, and her tears, honoring Jesus. Or the way that Jesus welcomed her touch.

Because then the true colors flew! The Pharisee was morally APPALLED to see such behavior. SURELY Jesus must have known “what kind of woman that was.” (We can only wonder how HE already knew who she was even as he thought that Jesus ought to have known.)

We’ll give the Pharisee credit for trying but our reading only reveals what kind of hypocrite he proved to be. Why? To protect his own power and privilege. It is always about that, isn’t it?

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you were twice honored that day. A dinner invitation from a Pharisee and the devotion shown by a woman. You welcomed them both. The breadth of your love has room for all of us. May we never fall prey to the temptation to reject people in order to preserve power. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 7:31-35

February 23, 2021

“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” Luke 7:31-35

Jesus says that sometimes, some people just don’t get it. They don’t understand. They can’t understand. Maybe they refuse to understand. And nothing can get through to turn their thinking around.

The trouble is, we don’t know who we are. “Am I one of those people who just doesn’t get it?” is a question we probably ought to ask ourselves with some regularity. Is my focus on seeking the truth or is my focus on defending my own point of view?

The unwillingness to seriously ask that question of ourselves is childish. We become, as Jesus says, “like children sitting in the marketplace.” Mature people are self-reflective, open to reason, willing to change their minds. Able to see reality for what it is.

But how do we know the difference?

There is a word that I don’t remember hearing in public much until several years ago. That word is “whataboutism.” I clearly remember getting into trouble for one thing or another as a child and then seeking to defend myself by changing the subject, changing the focus – “Yeah, but what about Billy? Did you see what he did? That was a lot worse than anything I did.” (Understand that you need to imagine a certain whine in my voice in reading that sentence.)

But whataboutism is something Jesus surfaces in those who reject what God is up to in both John and Jesus.

To those who would defend John’s work, his opponents say “He has a demon.” What about that?

To those who would defend Jesus’ work, his opponents say “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” What about that?

Either way, they don’t see that they just don’t get it. They can’t see reality staring them in the face. All they are doing is defending themselves and all that they think is true, all they cling to. They just don’t get it.

How do we tell the difference? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. What are the real life implications for real life people in my point of view? Does my understanding of Jesus take me to a place of love or a place where I feel personally justified in separating the sheep from the goats?”

How about today we all take a little time to ask the question, “Do I, or don’t I, get it? What am I seeking – the truth, or defending my own point of view?”

Dear Jesus, open our minds to ourselves. Help us more clearly hear ourselves, that we might be more open to clearly hearing your call to dance. Help us, in all things, to seek the truth and do the next right thing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 7:24-30

February 22, 2021

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

(And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.) Luke 7:24-30

No matter how hard we try… No matter how often we hear that “you are no better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you”… No matter how much we want to believe that – before God – there is no hierarchical pecking order of human merit… We can’t pull it off.

Martin Luther said that “we are all beggars at the foot of the cross.” Does that sound good or does that sound bad? Does that sound right or does that sound wrong?

This is one of those times when Jesus turns the world upside down. “I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

The world as we know it simply can’t handle a truth like that. It flies in the face of everything that we are taught, everything we see modeled in the world, from our earliest days. We set up pecking orders for everything. We pride ourselves on our achievements or we carry resentments against those who have achieved more.

We’re not taught to have an open, honest, authentic, loving relationship with the Jones’. We’re taught to keep up with them.

Everything for us needs to be bigger and better. We’re supposed to move UP in the world rather than finding ourselves DOWN on our luck or BENEATH other people. We get educations so we can climb corporate ladders. We look DOWN on those who we decide are at the BOTTOM.

None of that works anymore if our standard of humanity looks like “we’re all beggars at the foot of the cross.” But it looks GREAT if we still think that building the Tower of Babel – maybe even putting our name at the top in great big neon letters – is a worthwhile human pursuit.

Imagine that tax collector who climbed down in the river to be baptized by John. He knew full well that his success came at the cost of propping up a corrupt system of political power. He knew he was despised by many. And he knew how empty that left him. In his decision to be baptized, he knew what he was leaving behind and what he was receiving. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Restoration. Reconciliation. Mercy. Justice.

Now consider the lawyers and Pharisees who refused to be baptized. Luke tells us “But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.” But what did they gain? They retained their earthly power, their privilege, their influence over others. They retained the illusion that they were better than those beneath them.

Sure, they might not have used that language. They might not have even been conscious of their own privilege. Certainly they believed that everything about their lives was godly and good. Obviously, they thought their place in life was worth preserving – which is why they went after Jesus. Why wouldn’t they when he said stuff like this: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, thank you for the gift of life, for the gift of every person you have crafted in your own image. Forgive us for clinging so strongly to our Towers of Babel and all of the systems that prop up our twisted thinking. Teach us anew that we are all beggars at the foot of the cross. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 7:18-23

February 15, 2021

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind.

And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Luke 7:18-23

“I worked hard to climb the ladder of success only to learn that it was leaned up against the wrong building.”

There are many variations on this old saying but they all communicate the same thing. None of us want to waste our time, our talents, our energy. None of us want to be caught in the act of backing the wrong horse. None of us appreciate discovering that we’re on the wrong track.

But we ought to. And the sooner the better.

It is actually very reassuring to me to read about John the Baptizer – we assume speaking from the prison cell which Herod had thrown him into – was having second thoughts about whether or not he (John) had done the right thing. I imagine that sitting in prison often conjures up such thoughts. So John wanted reassurance. He sent two friends to check on Jesus.

We do remember, don’t we, why John was in prison? He spoke his mind. He spoke truth to power. He criticized the king for his moral failure, his abuse of power, for stealing his brother’s wife. None of us would defend Herod for that, would we? But for that alone, for speaking truth, John was stuck in a cell to shut him up.

Notice how Jesus answers the disciples’ question. He could have simply said, “Yes, I’m the one.” But he doesn’t. Instead, he points out the good that is happening in the lives of people when he shows up. The lives of sick people, disabled people, grieving people, and poor people. Those are the people who set the standards for the ministry of Jesus.

Now imagine those two friends returning to John with the good news. Such news wouldn’t free John from prison or change his ultimate fate, but we have to believe it would comfort his heart to know he did the right thing.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you continue to challenge our sense of success, of purpose, in our lives. You continue to remind us where your priorities lie, and where ours often don’t. Bless and encourage those who need reassurance that they are doing the right thing, even in the face of opposition. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 7:11-17

February 12, 2021

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:11-17

How far does your conception of “family” reach?

It is hard for me to imagine the world before Social Security was created in 1935. In fact, throughout history, people have always had to grapple with the needs of the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. You can read an interesting article about the evolution of public assistance by clicking here. But, in Jesus’ day, if you didn’t come from a wealthy, landowning, family, you worked until you were incapable of working and then you depended on the assistance of your immediate family.

After a long life of suffering, you continued to suffer.

Children were your retirement plan. So, when Jesus happened to stumble upon a funeral procession as he approached Nain, the grief wasn’t limited to the loss of a widow’s only son, it was grief at the loss of her future.

There is no question that the Bible describes, not only God’s commitment to seeing to the needs of the powerless (widows, orphans, strangers, outcasts), but God’s challenge to the powerful to see that actually happens. The prophets who railed against the injustice in their society ultimately blamed their downfall, not on the military power of their conqueror’s, but on the internal moral rot, and the particular refusal to address the needs of the powerless.

Listen to the words of Amos, “Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.” (Amos 6:4-7)

Or Isaiah, “How the faithful city has become a whore! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her— but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them.” (Isaiah 1:21-23)

Many would argue that the primary reason that the fledgling Christian community was so compelling to people in the first centuries of the church was how inclusive they were, and how responsive they were to the needs of the powerless, the sick, and the poorest of the poor.

Jesus raised the widow’s son from the dead. He could do that. But what he couldn’t do was immediately change the structures of society so that the poorest of the poor would be able to live with some measure of security and some hope of bettering their lot. That one is up to us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you have given us this story of a widow whose son is restored to life. Today we pray for all of those parents who have lost children who have not been restored to life in this world. We pray for widows, orphans, the destitute, the poorest of the poor. Help us continue to build a society where justice, mercy, and compassion drive our vision for how life ought to be. Help us extend our sense of family to include the entire human family. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 7:1-10

February 11, 2021

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.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health. Luke 7:1-10

Sometimes it is helpful for us to remember that none of the Bible was written with chapters and verses, carefully edited for publication, or designed to earn a living for its authors. (And the the Old Testament was written with little space between the words, no punctuation, and no vowels.)

I say this because, as we now turn to Chapter 7, we do well to remember the verses we heard yesterday. Jesus began by saying, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” That is the context that Luke would have us see as he tells us the story of the Roman centurion with the sick enslaved person.

The next thing we need to notice is how this story describes close social relationships. If we were to look at the characters as members of a “tribe” it is impossible to imagine the level of mutual respect and interdependence we see between a Roman centurion and the village elders. Yes, the Roman army was an occupying army. Yes, they could be brutal and oppressive. But here in this village they found a way to get along. The centurion built their synagogue. He reached out to the elders for help. They reached out to Jesus on his behalf. This is what working together – even among people with very different belief systems and agendas – looks like.

And then notice the humility and the respect that the centurion shows toward Jesus. A centurion was the leader of a group of 60-80 soldiers. More senior centurion would lead several groups like that. Bottom line, he was the boss. He knew what it was like to lead – and, like the best of leaders, he knew what it took to follow. He submitted himself to Jesus.

The story ends well. The servant is healed. The village, including the powerful among them, had seen Jesus in action. Let this be a reminder to us of the good that happens when we transcend tribal divisions and work together, each doing out part toward the common good.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, again today we realize the danger of paying lip service to what we believe without making that real in the relationships of our lives. Help us see through and beyond what divides us that we are able to preserve and protect the relationships that help all of us do better. In Jesus’ name. Amen.