Scripture: Luke 7:1-17
Key verse: (9) “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Reflection: Our reading is filled with some highly charged social figures. The first is a Centurion, a Roman military officer. He represents the occupying army, an extreme end of the socio-political spectrum of Jesus’ day. He is a person of wealth, power, and privilege. He is a slave owner, and his slave is ill. He is a thoughtful master concerned for his slave. He shows love for the people his army occupies, building them a synagogue. It could be said, the Centurion loves his enemies. He believes Jesus has the power to heal. He is, in many ways, a model of faith. Luke loves the irony of making a Roman Centurion a model for faith.
The second scene of our reading focuses on the widow of Nain. She represents the opposite end of the spectrum from the Centurion. Whereas he has privilege, she could not be more disadvantaged. He has power, she is utterly powerless. He is a person of wealth, she is a person of abject poverty, the poorest of the poor. She’s lost everything; her husband, and now her only son. She has no one to provide for her need. She is utterly helpless.
Jesus is present with and for both of them — at these polar opposite places for these polar opposite people.
What a witness to our polarized world of us and them. In our world, if Jesus showed up and helped the Centurion, those on the side of the widow would brand him as a sell-out, failing to challenge the politics of occupation, helping an oppressor by healing his slave so that he could get back to work. In our world, if Jesus showed up in Nain, some might ask, “When is he going to expect the poor to take responsibility for their lives?” Or perhaps, “That young man wouldn’t have died if Nain on Nain violence wasn’t so high.” We have a really hard time finding any empathy for the other in our world.
Jesus doesn’t. He is present for the Centurion and his slave, and for the widow and her son. His presence brings healing. His presence brings reconciliation. His presence is defined by compassion. The Greek word there is one of my favorites: σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai,) —from the word, splenknoi—meaning “intestines.” For the Greeks, to have compassion is to have guts—that’s where you feel compassion first, in your gut. Compassion is about having guts, not in a macho way, but in a way that feels the pain of the other and acts to ease that pain. Such is the presence of Christ across the socio-political spectrum of his day, from the Centurion to the widow.
Perhaps that is the call of the body of Christ in our world today — to be present across the spectrum from the powerful to the powerless, from the privileged to the precarious, from resident to refugee. This presence is not simply a milk toast “I’m ok, you’re ok,” it’s a presence defined by loving our enemies, by healing, by reconciliation, and by compassion. That is who we are called to be.
Prayer: For your boundless compassion for us all revealed in Jesus, we thank you, O God. Help us live in response to your love by loving all who cross our path today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].