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Mutual interdependence (April 14, 2024)

Sheldon Sorge looks at the centurion in Luke 7.

Outlook Standard Lesson for April 14, 2024
Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: ​​​Luke 7:1-10

A healing climate

Sometimes people are told by their physicians that they need to move to a different climate to be healthy – somewhere warmer, drier, with cleaner air. Environment is a critical factor in establishing and maintaining wholeness.

Notice the social climate of today’s story. The centurion esteems his slave highly, something startling in itself. Local Jewish leaders praise the centurion even though he is the local enforcer of a hostile occupying empire. The centurion treats everyone in the community with affection and generosity. This mutual affirmation and kindness between people who ordinarily would be foes creates a climate conducive to healing.

Political polarization has replaced mutual forbearance in much of our world. We have lost the will or even the capacity to think the best and act in the best interest of our neighbor whose perspective differs from ours. Tragically, this reciprocal antipathy runs rampant even within the Christian family. Rather than promoting well-being, the communal air we breathe is toxic and deadly.

A little help from his friends

Last week we considered how a paralytic man found healing because of the faith and help of his friends (Luke 5:17-26). Today’s story continues this theme of mutual interdependence in the exercise of faith. The centurion reaches out on behalf of his ailing slave, asking the Jewish elders, in turn, to approach Jesus for his sake. As Jesus draws near, the unnamed centurion sends still another delegation to beseech Jesus on his account.

The centurion is creating a climate of mutual help, but that is not all. He also demonstrates the grace of choosing to be last rather than first. He could easily command Jesus to perform a miracle. That is what a person in his position would be expected to do. But he chooses instead to stay in the background, and let others have the face time with Jesus.

Pure faith

I have never forgotten a graphic sermon I heard as a young child. The preacher stood beside a chair and declared as he sat on it, “Some people think this is faith, trusting that the chair is strong enough to keep me from falling on my backside. That’s not faith, that’s just horse sense.” He proceeded to get up and lower himself beside the chair into a sitting position, declaring, “Faith is sitting in a chair that isn’t there.” Whereupon he sank into a controlled fall onto his backside. No wonder I remember the sermon!

Ordinarily, Jesus healed by touch. There was a physical connection through which healing flowed. There was something tangible for the person in need to hang on to. But the centurion had faith when there was nothing tangible to hang it on. A word from Jesus at a distance would be all that was necessary, he believed.

At this point in his life, Jesus is immensely popular. Getting Jesus into his house would surely score the centurion some good points with the townspeople he cared about so much. But he avoids anything that could smack of him taking advantage of his position. The fact that we don’t even know his name demonstrates his success.

Time again people are amazed at Jesus’ words and deeds. But Jesus was hard to impress. Yet this guy leaves him amazed. Only twice in the Gospels are we told that Jesus is amazed – the other time was also about faith, but it was the lack rather than the abundance of faith that amazed him (Mark 6:6).

Words matter

The centurion believed that words matter. Persuasion rather than force. Blessing, not cursing. Praising, not blaming. The way he conducted his life apart from Jesus shaped how he related to Jesus. How he conducted his business, the quality of his relationships – all fed into him being a person who related to Jesus based on his word.

Faith comes by hearing the word, Paul teaches (Romans 10:17). By the same token, words can destroy. The kinds of words we use matter greatly. Are they words that build up or tear down? Are they words of hope or gloom? Are they words of trust or suspicion? Are they words that bless, or that curse?

The choice of words we use is ours. The centurion lived by words that gave life, and because he did, he knew that Jesus’ healing power lay in his words. We discover the healing power of God’s Word in our lives to the extent that we choose to live by words that bring life.

Questions for discussion

  1. Tell about a time when you encountered someone whose humility and faith were especially noteworthy. How was their humility made evident? How did their way of conducting themselves affect others?
  2. Tell about a time when someone’s words significantly changed your life for the better. How might such an example suggest ways we could heal the polarized animosity that is so deeply entrenched in our society today?

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